§ 4.30 p.m.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
Your Lordships will be aware of the immediate background to the introduction of this Bill which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary set out in his Statement to another place on 22nd May and which my noble friend Lord Reay repeated to your Lordships. In the past two months or so there have been a number of very serious attacks on people by dogs. But the most recent attacks have been of a different degree of seriousness and savagery to the great majority of incidents in which dogs bite people.
The vicious attacks by pit bull terriers on six year-old Rucksana Khan and on Mr. Frank Tempest, whose fearful disfigurement was seen by many on television and in the newspapers, and other savage attacks have all caused widespread concern among the public, who look to the Government and to the law for protection. I am sure that all of your Lordships will have admired the courage of Rucksana Khan and Mr. 511 Tempest in recovering from those attacks and in coping with the terrible injuries which they have received and would wish to join me in expressing our best wishes to them and to their families for the future.
The type of dog which was responsible for those attacks, the pit bull terrier, is one which was first introduced into this country in the mid-1970s. It is a cross-breed dog, it is bred for fighting, it is strong, it is impervious to pain and it is capable of exerting enormous pressure with its jaws. Experts have said that the only certain way to stop an attack by a determined pit bull terrier is with a mallet or with a gun. In many cases in this country, and in America, where the pit bull terrier has killed 34 people, it has proved impossible for full-grown adults to stop a pit bull terrier from its attack once it has started.
We all know that the British people are noted for their love of animals. Dogs in particular give pleasure and companionship to many of us, and some people instinctively feel that there is really no such thing as a bad dog; simply a bad owner. In this respect, the pit bull terrier is, I think, in a class apart from other dogs. No matter how well it is treated by its owner, the pit bull terrier can attack without warning. Many of these dogs have been well behaved and have played perfectly safely with children in the family home up to the point when they attack. That sort of unpredictability is in the nature of the pit bull terrier.
That is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary decided that it was necessary to bring forward legislation as a matter of urgency in order to tackle the problem. The Bill also prohibits another fighting dog, the Japanese Tosa, which can apparently grow to a simply colossal size—I am told to the size of a donkey—and can weigh up to 17 stone. Fortunately, there is only one in this country at the moment—and you need two for procreation.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Earl, but I know this dog. I am the only Member of this House who has been to see him and I am on friendly terms with him. I am giving your Lordships due warning that there is a champion for this one dog in Britain in me.
My Lords, we shall listen with interest to what the noble Lord has to say. I would merely offer him two words of advice: watch it!
When the Bill was debated in another place there was unanimous support for its aim, which is a simple one. It is to rid the country of the danger to the public which these fighting dogs represent. As your Lordships will be aware, the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. It is supported by the major animal welfare organisations and by the veterinary bodies.
Clause 1 sets out a range of criminal offences which will apply to the pit bull terrier, to the Japanese Tosa and to any other fighting dogs which my right honourable friend may specify by order. The reference in Clause 1 to fighting dogs is an important one. It is intended to draw a distinction between dogs like the pit bull terrier and the Tosa which are dogs bred for fighting and other types of dog such as the Rottweiler 512 and the Dobermann which, although they might be potentially dangerous, are not in fact fighting dogs. There is, therefore, no suggestion that the Government would either wish, or indeed would be able, to use the Clause 1 powers to ban the ownership of the Rottweiler or Dobermann.
As I have said, the pit bull terrier is a cross-breed dog, bred and cross-bred with other types in order to increase its aggressiveness. The fact that it is a cross-breed, therefore, makes it difficult to define in law. There is as yet no scientific way, such as DNA testing, to define in law what is a pit bull terrier. Many experts are considering the question of the definition both in this country and in other European countries where they are considering similar legislation.
It is possible that in time a more precise scientific definition may emerge. Clause 1(1) gives the Secretary of State the power to refine the definition of any fighting dog, including the pit bull terrier, by order. At the moment the definition in the Bill is:any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier".That is a description which is expressed in plain language that everyone can understand.
If the import of those two dogs had been banned at the time when they were introduced into this country, it is very likely that we should not be debating the Bill today. That makes it all the more important that the Government should have clear powers to ban the domestic ownership and import of any other new types of fighting dog which may emerge in the future. Clause 1(1) (c) gives the Secretary of State the power to take immediate action to ban such dogs by order. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has powers in separate legislation to impose an import ban. We have used those powers already to ban further imports of the pit bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa.
The criminal offences which will apply to the dogs which are specified in Clause 1 cover breeding them, selling or exchanging them, giving them away, advertising them, abandoning them or letting them stray. These offences will become law very soon after the Bill is enacted, by an order of the Secretary of State. From that time, Clause 1(2) (a) will make it a criminal offence to have a pit bull terrier or a Tosa in public without a muzzle and without a lead. That is a measure which will give protection to the public as soon as the Bill becomes law. Those who commit these offences will face tough penalties—a maximum of six months' imprisonment and a maximum fine of £2,000, which will rise to a maximum of £5,000 when the Criminal Justice Bill, which raises fine levels, becomes law.
Clause 1(3) also creates an offence of owning or keeping a prohibited dog. It is our intention to bring that offence into force some time after the other criminal offences in the Bill, at about the end of November. There will, therefore, be a period of some four months before actually owning or having custody of one of those dogs itself becomes a criminal offence. During that time the owner can decide to do one of two things: he can decide either to have his pit bull terrier put down voluntarily or he can seek to have it exempted.
513 The Government will provide an incentive for owners who wish to have their pit bull terrier put down. Clause 1(3) enables the Secretary of State to make by order a scheme to pay to owners a sum by way of compensation for the dog and its putting down. My right honourable friend is consulting the veterinary profession and animal welfare organisations about the precise level of the sum to be paid to each owner. The cost of putting a dog down varies from one part of the country to another. Many claim that pit bull terriers are valuable dogs and there is the suggestion that some change hands for large sums. Much of that value is based on their value as fighting dogs in the illegal and quite deplorable activity of dog fighting. It would be quite wrong for any sum which may be made available from public funds to reflect that sort of factor.
The best advice which we have suggests that the intrinsic value of the pit bull terrier is about £25. The sum which will be made available to cover compensation and destruction is likely to be some here in the region of £50. It will be payable by the Home Office when the owner produces a certificate or other proof from a veterinary surgeon that the dog is a pit bull terrier and that it has been put down.
My right honourable friend indicated, during the Second Reading of the Bill, that he would be consulting interested parties, including the police, the veterinary bodies and animal welfare organisations about an exemption scheme. Those discussions are now nearly complete, and my right honourable friend will publish the relevant order in draft form, together with details of how the scheme will work, very shortly.
Your Lordships might like to know what we propose that the pit bull owner, who wishes to retain his dog, should have to do under the scheme. The first thing which he will have to do is to obtain a form from the police, and leave with them his name and address.
He will then have to have his dog, male or female, neutered by a veterinary surgeon. The veterinary surgeon will also mark the dog. Neutering is not a means of rendering a dog safe. It is a means of ensuring that the animal cannot breed, and that the breed itself cannot continue.
The owner will also have to arrange for the dog to be covered by third party insurance. He will then have to provide proof of insurance and proof of neutering in order to obtain a certificate of exemption by which he will be allowed to keep the dog. There will need to be a central index of exempted dogs to which the police will have access in order to check the details of any deg which they seize or which is the subject of a complaint.
We have put the task of running this scheme out to tender to a number of organisations. We hope to announce the appointment of the successful organisation within the next few weeks. The invitations to tender which we have issued, stress the need for the organisation which runs the scheme to work closely with the police, the Home Office and the other agencies involved in ensuring that the exemption scheme works. The body which runs the scheme will also be responsible for issuing the certificate of exemption.
514 The owner who wishes to exempt his dog will have to meet the full cost of doing so himself. The cost of neutering by a veterinary surgeon varies according to the sex of the dog. Castrating a dog can cost about £80. Spaying a bitch can, I understand, cost in the region of £120. The cost of insurance is a matter for the owner to work out with his insurance company, but it will add to the cost.
The operating costs of the scheme, which will include a central index of exempted dogs, will be fully recoverable through the fee to be charged for the permit. The fee clearly cannot be determined finally until the final details are settled and the process of tendering is complete.
The exemption scheme contains a tough and costly set of requirements for the owner of these dogs to meet. Breaching any of the requirements will mean that the dog is no longer an exempted one and the owner commits the offence of possession in Clause 1(3). At all times the owner of the dog must keep it muzzled and on a lead.
During the proceedings on the Bill in another place, it was suggested that as an additional protection to the public no one under the age of 18 should be allowed to have charge of such a dog in public. Perhaps the age of 18 is a couple of years too high, but I can assure your Lordships that we would look sympathetically at any amendment which your Lordships might care to bring forward along these lines during the passage of the Bill.
At the end of November, the offence of possessing or having custody of a prohibited dog will come into force. Those who have not voluntarily had their dogs put down or who have not successfully had them exempted at that stage, will face a term of imprisonment of up to six months and/or a maximum fine of £2,000, which will rise to £5,000 when the Criminal Justice Bill is implemented. With this, as with any of the other Clause 1 offences, the onus will be on the accused to prove that his dog is not a pit bull terrier.
Some have suggested that the exemption scheme constitutes some sort of registration system. Perhaps I may say a word or two about dog registration. Those of us who listened to the debate on registration during the passage of the Environmental Protection Bill last year will know that it is a subject on which many of your Lordships have views, all of which are sincerely held and many of which are forcefully expressed.
The situation in which we find ourselves looking at this matter again today is very different from the position a year ago. The Dangerous Dogs Bill is itself a piece of legislation very different from the Environmental Protection Bill. It is aimed specifically at ridding the country of fighting dogs and at giving the public greater protection against dogs which are dangerous.
The question of dog registration needs to be seen in that context. We are not in any way persuaded that general dog registration would have helped to prevent any of the most serious dog attacks which have occurred recently. It is significant that another place rejected a dog registration amendment at Committee stage by 43 votes. That is a very much larger majority 515 than the slender margin of three votes by which the other place decided last year not to accept my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley's amendment to the Environmental Protection Bill.
The background is therefore different. I am sure that those of your Lordships who advocate registration will have their say. I shall look forward to hearing what they do have to say. But I hope that whatever differences there may be on this issue they will not prevent your Lordships from supporting this much needed Bill.
The Government recognise that the pit bull terrier is not the only type of dog which can attack, although I hope that I have explained to your Lordships that the power and the savagery with which it does so sets it apart from other types and breeds.
The sad truth, which all dog owners recognise, is that dogs of any type can snap and bite. Much depends on the control which the owner or keeper exercises over his or her dog. The consultation paper on the control of dogs which the Government issued last June put forward a number of proposals aimed at encouraging owners to control their dogs more responsibly.
Clause 3 of the Bill contains two important provisions applying to dogs of any type which were set out in the consultation paper and which attracted an encouraging measure of support. Subsection (1) of Clause 3 makes it a criminal offence for someone to permit a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place together with an aggravated offence when a dog then attacks someone and injures them.
The penalty for the offence is imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of up to £5,000, as the level of the fine will become. The penalty for the aggravated offence is two years' imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The criminal offence in Clause 3 is one which can apply to the owner of any dog. We hope that it will encourage owners to exercise greater responsibility for their dogs when the dogs are out of the house. At the same time we recognise that if a particular breed of dog is in the future responsible for a number of serious incidents to the point where it represents a serious danger to the public, there may be calls for all dogs of that particular breed to be subject to special restrictions. Clause 2 therefore provides a reserve power to impose restrictions in those circumstances. It would enable the Home Secretary to apply to named types of dogs the criminal offences in Clause 1(2)(d) and (e) of failing to muzzle and have on a lead and abandoning or allowing to stray. This would be done by order.
Imposing blanket conditions such as these on any of the recognised breeds of dogs would be a major step. The Government consider it necessary that before such a serious course of action is undertaken, there should be wide consultation.
Clause 2 therefore imposes an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult widely with representatives of the veterinary profession, animal welfare organisations and bodies with particular knowledge of 516 dogs before making such an order. Before such an order was implemented, it would have to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
This is an important power to have in reserve if the provisions in the Bill, which are aimed at encouraging responsible ownership and control of dogs, prove not to be sufficient. The Government are not convinced however that there is a case at the present time for singling out any types of dogs for the uniform restrictions envisaged in Clause 2. Most postmen would regard as a greater problem certain dogs which are usually well known to them and which can come from any type or breed.
The Government think that it is important that members of the public, postmen and others, who have good cause to fear for their safety because of the threat which may be presented by a particular dog should be able to take action to tackle the problem. Clause 3(4) provides them with the means of doing so. It strengthens the power in the Dogs Act 1871 and enables any one, who considers that a dog is dangerous and that it is not kept under proper control, to apply to the court for an order to require its owner to keep it under control.
Two important changes from the power in the Dogs Act 1871 are that it enables the court to make an order whether or not a dog which is thought to be dangerous has actually caused injury to a person. It also enables the court to specify particular measures by which the dog should be controlled. The measures named in Clause 3(4)(b) are,muzzling, keeping on a lead",and,excluding it from specified places".The court would have the power to specify other measures if it was thought necessary.
The postman and the next door neighbour, whose work or whose relaxation were made a misery by a dog which snarled, nipped, scratched or escaped, would have the means to force its owner to stop it from doing so. The proposal was widely welcomed when it was put forward in the consultation paper issued last year.
Those are the major provisions of the Bill. It is a measure which has been brought forward quickly to meet both public and parliamentary concern about the attacks by fighting dogs which have been taking place. The provisions of the Bill will, I think, provide a tough and effective response to that problem. They give the public protection and they toughen the law against those who do not take care to control their dogs properly.
The Bill has been widely welcomed by another place, the animal welfare associations, the veterinary bodies and the general public. I hope that your Lordships will also support the Bill and ensure that it passes quickly into law.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I know that the House will understand if I start my speech by paying a tribute to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I heard that he had gone to view the Japanese Tosa, 517 which is the only one in the country. I also heard that the dog was about the size of a small donkey. Your Lordships will no doubt understand the skill and determination and indeed the initiative of my noble friend in pursuing that confrontation. I then heard that the monster proved to be amiable. But, after that, I heard that it had left the country for France. Of course, I know not whether that was a result of my noble friend's confrontation with the dog or whether it was purely coincidental. However, I am quite sure that, if more Tosas come into the country, we should not rely upon my noble friend to ensure that they all leave the country and go to France.
The noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill will know that the Opposition support it. We have seen too many vicious attacks, and even deaths, caused by the American pit hull terrier in this country. Therefore, to hinder the Bill now would, in our view, be to deny the public the protection they need. At the outset, perhaps I may make it perfectly clear to the House that we shall therefore give the Bill a fair wind. Having said that, the noble Earl will no doubt expect my next sentence to begin with the word "however"; indeed, it does.
However, while the Bill provides some answer to the problem of fighting dogs, we on these Benches, like the RSPCA and other interested groups, believe that the Government have asked themselves and have indeed answered the wrong question. The Government have failed in the Bill fully to address the problems of irresponsible dog ownership, and they could do so. Banning some dogs is a fair, short-term answer to the immediate problem. But I must say right at the outset that in our view the registering of all dogs would be a better solution to a problem which goes much wider than the question of fighting dogs.
I must also say that the Government's approach to and the consequent limitations of the Bill seem to smack more of a concentration on the headlines rather than producing a considered response to the views of experts in the field or the advice of Members of this House and of another place; or indeed of listening to, apparently, 92 per cent. of the population. According to the findings of a Harris poll published in the Observer on 16th June, 92 per cent. of the population would support a national dog registration scheme. I cannot avoid saying that in our view this is an opportunity which has been missed.
However, I am sure that I speak for Members on all sides of the House in joining the Minister in sending our sympathy to the victims of attacks by these dogs. The recent appalling cases of the young girl Rucksana Khan and Mr. Frank Tempest were preceded by earlier tragedies such as the death of Kelly Lynch. We must also not forget those who, while they have not actually been attacked, have had their lives terrorised by the pit bull terrier which may live next door, round the corner or indeed, usually, in the neighbouring park.
Not all such dogs are inevitably fierce and by no means are all owners of such dogs irresponsible. But many members of the public, and I am sure Members of this House, rightly fear meeting such unpredictable creatures in the street. As the noble Earl said in his 518 opening speech, it is the unpredictability of the dog which in some ways is the greatest problem. The short point, as the Minister said, is that the dogs have been bred for fighting and for aggression. As such, they are hardly in the same category as the family pet and, quite clearly, different legislation is needed to deal with them.
For that reason, we support the Government's aim to eliminate the pit bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa from this country. The proposals in the Bill which provide for compensation for those who have their dog put down, and which allow certain exemptions for those who do not want to have their dog destroyed, are on the whole sensible and reasonable measures. We similarly welcome the powers to put down dogs which do not meet the exemptions and to imprison, fine or ban owners who contravene the new provisions. We also approve of those clauses of the Bill which provide for the muzzling and leashing of these and other dangerous dogs; and the strengthening of sanctions to deal with those who allow their dogs to be dangerously out of control in a public place.
So far, so good. However, the Government should not pretend that the public are only concerned about pit bull terriers. I do not believe that they are much concerned about the Japanese Tosa. Indeed, I do not think many of us have come across one yet as apparently there is only one in the country; that is, if it is still here. Their concern goes wider. If one talks to members of the public about the problem it is evident that Rottweilers and Dobermann pinschers are breeds about which people are worried. Moreover, despite the extraordinary growth in the ownership of what used to be called Alsatians, but which now I believe are commonly known as German shepherd dogs, people are still worried about the unpredictability which some of those dogs show.
One has to recognise at the outset that the Bill is a limited response to what is perceived as a limited problem. In our view, it does not go sufficiently far. Having said that, there may be one or two problems with the legislation. But I should like first to pay tribute to the skill of the parliamentary draftsmen; that is, those who work in that workhouse of the legislature which is not usually given the credit for which it is perhaps due. They have brought forward a definition of the dog covered by the Bill which I am bound to say I find extremely skilful. As I understand it, it is impossible to define a pit bull terrier. The breed is not known. Therefore, we have legislated not for the pit bull terrier but for,any dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier".The Home Secretary said in the debate on the Bill in another place—and indeed the noble Earl repeated it today—that the definition of,any dog of the typewas,understandable to the lawyer and the layman". [Official Report, Commons, 10/6/91; co1.646.]I regret that I do not entirely share his optimistic view; nor do I think it would be shared by any lawyer acting for an owner. How, for example, is one to distinguish between a "cross-breed", a "half-breed' or any other 519 permutation of "type"? This urgently needs clarification and we look forward to hearing the Government's clarification at a subsequent stage of the Bill. I should also say to the Government that reversing the onus of proof as to whether the dog is or is not of the,type known as the pit bull terrier".(that is, not that it is a pit bull terrier but that it is of the "type") does not solve the problem of definition.
Secondly, there is no definition of owner in the Bill. With a proper registration scheme, that would be simple. The registered owner is the registered owner. In the absence of a registration scheme, who in a family is the owner of the dog? Is it the person who originally brought it in; the wife who perhaps looks after it for most of the time; the child who mostly takes it out; or, in the case of pit bull terriers, the "elderly teenager" or the youth in his early twenties who may not have bought the dog but who seems to have assumed control over it? There is a problem with definition. Although I understand and appreciate what the Government are trying to achieve, problems will arise with the Bill as presently drafted.
The Bill is far from faultlessly drafted. I do not blame the draftsman for that. I blame the speed with which the Government reacted and perhaps the not entirely coherent way in which they approached the problem. There are a number of amendments, some of which were denied discussion in the other place due to the Government's guillotine Motion, that we intend to table in this House.
We are also concerned that the Bill contains no provisions requiring all dogs to be kept in safe conditions. Clause 3 creates an offence of permitting a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place. As I understand it, that provision applies to all dogs not just to fighting or dangerous dogs. I am not sure what permitting a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place means, unless it results in some kind of attack which, under this clause, is regarded as an aggravated offence. If the dog is running around a park yapping, I should not have thought that that was being dangerously out of control, but I know not. I see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, shaking his head. The Government need to clarify what they mean by that provision, and must ensure that the public know what they mean.
Firearms, when not in use, must still be kept in a safe place. We believe that provisions should be included to ensure that fighting dogs at least have to be kept securely to prevent their escape or theft. We should also like clarification of the definition of a "public place". Will the police have powers to act against dangerous dogs in tower blocks, maisonettes, and areas around them, and in back gardens? What will be the position of a dog—to use the words of the Bill—"dangerously out of control" in the owner's driveway, for example? Are the police entitled to enter and deal with a dog? Again, we find a lack of precision and clarity in the Bill with which we hope the Government can deal.
520 I turn to graver and weightier matters. There are several omissions in the Bill. A major omission is a wider scheme for third party insurance. The Government have included in the Bill provisions relating to the insurance of dangerous dogs which are not destroyed. I confess that we are puzzled as to why the Government did not extend the requirement to obtain insurance to "other specially dangerous dogs". We believe that there may be a case for extending third party insurance to all dogs. We shall in due course seek support for that suggestion from all sides of the House.
Insurance would at least provide some compensation for all those subject to attacks from dogs where the owner can be identified, as he could clearly be identified if there were a proper registration scheme. When an attack occurs and the owner cannot be identified, our view is that victims, especially after the Bill's passage, should be able to claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
The inadequacies of the Bill extend also to its financial provisions. Local authorities' representatives are worried that the £250,000 which the Government have assessed it will cost to implement the Bill will not be enough even to locate and register the estimated 10,000 pit bull terriers in the country. We shall therefore seek assurances that local authorities will be fully compensated for enforcing the Bill.
Ultimately, the Bill is inadequate because it provides a partial solution only to the problem in this country. RSPCA figures show, for example, that out of 468 serious attacks recorded in the metropolitan area in 1990, 111 were caused by the American pit bull terrier. That means that 357 attacks were caused by dogs other than the pit bull terrier. They were caused by dozens of other breeds of dog, including many cross breeds. The problem caused by dangerous dogs will not be lessened until all dog owners appreciate that they are responsible for their animals' actions. I noticed that in almost the closing sentence of the Minister's speech he emphasised the importance of ensuring that all dog owners were made to feel responsible for the actions of their dogs. That is true, but a national dog registration scheme would be the most efficient way of focusing the minds of dog owners on those responsibilities.
The advantages of registering all dogs have been argued by my party and almost all animal welfare organisations for a number of years now. The House has a solid reputation for supporting such a scheme. The Government, however, still resist it. Clause 1(5) deals with the exceptions that the Government may be prepared to make to the overall provisions relating to pit bull terriers, and includes provisions requiring owners of pit bull terriers who apply for exemption and secure it, to register their dogs with the police. If that is not a dog registration scheme for fighting dogs, I confess that I hardly understand the English language.
The nub of the argument is that there can be no adequate control of dogs without a registration scheme which links the owner to the dog. Irrespective of breed, that is the way to take the majority of responsible dog owners along with the legislation. The 521 Government argue that pit hull terriers are in a class of their own because they are bred for fighting. That is true, and I accept it. However, in general a breed "type of dog" approach is the wrong way to proceed because many dogs are capable of inflicting severe injuries upon people. Ninety breeds of dog were involved in the 357 serious attacks in the Metropolitan area in 1990. That figure indicates that irresponsible ownership is a problem which needs tackling, and hence our support for a national dog registration scheme.
The Home Secretary has acknowledged that the permanent identification of the dog and certification of ownership are central to the Bill's effective enforcement. Those are the basic requirements of a dog registration scheme. It is unfortunately clear that the issue has become the victim of what I suppose I can tactfully call "political circumstances". Factors seem to be coming into play which militate against a favourable decision on a dog registration scheme in this House and in another place. I see the noble Lord, Lord Stanley, nodding his head in apparent agreement. I am sorry that he agrees with me, having regard to what I have just had to say. I have to say to the noble Lord, and to other noble Lords who think like him, that were they to take a different view and agree that a dog registration scheme should be introduced in the Bill, as the noble Lord will be aware from what was said in another place on Second Reading and in Committee, that is something that we on this side of the House would view with favour.
The general public are keen to see a Bill enacted. This Bill is a serious, albeit inadequate, response by the Government. Its main provisions are to be welcomed, but it is a limited Bill, dealing with a limited situation. It will have a limited effect; and it is, frankly, second best.
We very much regret the fact that the Government have once again missed an opportunity to deal with the problem comprehensively and properly. As I said, we shall not impede the Bill's passage, but we shall urge the Government to monitor the situation closely, and we shall not hesitate to take every appropriate opportunity to press the case for dog registration.
§ 5.10 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, we on these Benches agree with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. The scope of the Bill is narrow, dealing with tragic events, or the protection of the public from the repetition of tragic events which were outlined by the noble Earl when he introduced the Bill. He told us clearly what it was about and its many provisions.
The Government are quite right to act. We support them in their actions so far as they go under all the circumstances concerning dogs today in this country. Nevertheless, the circumstances are extremely unsatisfactory. Very little accurate information is available about even the number of dogs in the country; figures of 3 million and 5 million are floated, but no one knows exactly. As the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, there is no registration scheme through which one can focus on this kind of information. How many dogs are 522 there? Who owns them? Where is the concentration to be found of dogs deemed to be dangerous? How do various types of owners look after their dogs? Do they look after them differently in one area compared with another?
All this information would follow naturally from a dog registration scheme. It would cost money. The Government have given as one of the reasons for not wanting such a scheme that it would be expensive. Another is that those people whom they wish to pursue for being irresponsible owners would not register. Here we find ourselves faced with a Bill which—admirable though it is—places quite hard conditions on owning the type of dog mentioned in it. We leave aside the Japanese dog for the moment because we shall probably hear more about it from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who seems to be the best informed person in the House.
I have spoken to various people about the pit bull terrier, including dog wardens. We, or rather the Government, are in trouble with the Bill because it involves identifying exactly what a pit bull terrier is. The dog warden to whom I spoke in the city of Bradford has been head of a warden scheme there which has been in existence for some years, since the middle 1970s. The warden has a staff of five but there is a severe problem. He tells me that even for an expert it is not easy to say with any certainty what is and what is not a pit bull terrier.
When the police are given the responsibility of seeing that the provisions of the Bill are carried out, they will find it extremely difficult. All their duties in connection with the Bill will be difficult and I cannot help feeling that it is unfair to load upon them yet another duty. It is not surprising that a few policemen to whom I have spoken about the proposed legislation become down in the mouth when they discuss it. Many of them are nervous of dogs; I am nervous of dogs.
As I walked into your Lordships' House this afternoon, I saw two charming ladies standing outside the House of Commons with a message to us on their clothing. They had a large Alsatian with them, and the message said, "This dog likes people". I treated it with some caution because the message could be interpreted in several ways. I started and took a step backwards and they said, "Oh, you needn't be afraid". They gave some advice which I will pass on to your Lordships: "If you are ever approached by a dog that looks dangerous or that may attack you, it is easy. All you do is to close your eyes, cross your arms and make a noise as though you were saying, "Oh, not again'". I pass that guidance on to your Lordships, but I would start low down the scale when trying out the advice, first with a Chihuahua and then working up.
These ladies were helpful; I moved them to the gate of the House of Lords so that they would meet other noble Lords coming in. The dog had a tattoo mark in its ear which interested me. The ladies said, "If an identification scheme is established, this is the way in which dogs should be identified. It is painless, easily read and it does not disappear". Apparently, the new technology which has been suggested involves a chip in the scruff of the neck of the dog, but the technology has not yet been perfected. They said, "If you know 523 anything about dogs, you will know that small objects such as that chip tend to travel round the dog". I did not know it but what may start in the scruff of the neck may end up anywhere. Clearly the tattoo is the best method of dealing with identification.
To return to the problems of the Bill, it seems to me that one of the most interesting aspects that arises is third party insurance. It was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and it is absolutely right that third party insurance should be taken out by the owners of dogs such as the pit bull terrier and the other dog which is mentioned in the Bill. Indeed, should not third party insurance be taken out by owners of many other kinds of dogs which are potentially a threat? I am told that many owners already do so and I inquired of the two good ladies whom I met at lunchtime whether the dog was insured. They said it was insured through a club. I was interested to know how an underwriter assessed the risk, I supposed that it was more on the status of the owner than the dog. They said that if one belongs to a reputable club, the underwriters take a view of the club and the rates are set accordingly. They are not excessively high. In this case for the Alsatian which likes people it was £9. That does not seem to me to be excessive. It did not seem to matter what kind of dog one insured—though presumably not a pit bull terrier—even including dogs sometimes deemed to be dangerous such as Alsatians and Rottweilers.
Perhaps Bradford is not a good example because it is an inner city area with many problems with crime and dogs—the two go together in that authority. In my discussions with the Bradford wardens, I was told that they handle about 5,000 dogs a year. The dogs are picked up and put in the pound and only 15 per cent. are returned to their original owners; 95 per cent. of those handled by the Bradford wardens have no identification whatever. They said that generally when a dog is involved in a problem in Bradford most people deny ownership. However, it is accepted that in a serious case such as the tragic ones mentioned today, it is usually possible to identify the owners fairly quickly. With minor cases the owners seem to vanish.
The wardens said that one of the problems in the Bradford area with dangerous dogs or ones that are the property of irresponsible owners is that they live on housing estates. I do not wish to imply that all people who live on housing estates are irresponsible dog owners. Clearly, the restrictions of living on a housing estate make dog ownership more difficult, particularly if the dog is large. The Bradford wardens told me that many dangerous dogs are bred in blocks of flats and the puppies are sold, passed on or given away to friends. Many of the puppies find their way into the dog pound after days or weeks.
One of the main difficulties which has not yet been mentioned is of owners of pit bull terriers anticipating the legislation. One warden said to me with certainty, "We have found 20 pit bull terriers which have been let loose. The owners don't want the problem of dealing with the provisions of the Bill, and we have had to collect the dogs". We asked what would happen if similar circumstances arose all over the country and 524 the dogs then bred with other dogs in the interim period before being picked up. He said, "Have you any idea of the implications regarding the strain which has been bred into the pit bull terrier?" As the noble Earl accurately told us, it is a cross-breed. I was asked what effect it would have on the population of dogs in a crowded area. That is another reason for initiating a dog registration scheme sooner or later to tighten up this state of affairs.
I return to the matter of the police having to implement the provisions of this Bill. That seems unsatisfactory when there are so many experts who could do the job. I believe that about half the local authorities in this country have some kind of dog warden scheme although some of those schemes may be inadequate due to cost restrictions. However, I do not believe any other authority has the five wardens that Bradford has. This matter is clearly not a job for the police. It is not fair to ask the police to acquaint themselves with the peculiarities of dealing with dogs, particularly dogs which have been badly handled or maltreated and have come from the kinds of background that have turned them into dangerous dogs. The noble Earl has explained the difference between a fighting dog and a dangerous dog. It is not fair to expect the police to handle these situations in addition to their normal duties. There are many qualified people who could implement a satisfactory scheme much quicker than is envisaged in the Bill.
I emphasise that—many noble Lords will probably repeat the same points in this debate—we on these Benches see no alternative to a dog registration scheme, however it is operated. Although the Bill deals admirably with fighting dogs that are bred to be aggressive—such dogs are often used for betting purposes—it does not deal with dogs such as Rottweilers. Those dogs are often perfectly good family pets. The warden in Bradford told me that sometimes Rottweilers are trained to be vicious to deter police making drug raids. That is a frightening thought.
The warden also told me that recently the police in Bradford were called out to deal with two Rottweilers which had escaped from a scrapyard that the dogs were guarding. I am told that is a normal use for dogs of that kind. When they escaped from the scrapyard, the dogs started terrorising some children on a nearby estate. Two units of policemen came and they tried to surround the dogs. However, the dogs became agitated and the police failed to corner them. The police then contacted a dog warden who came with his grasper. That is an implement with a noose on the end of it. The warden finally caught the dogs. The dogs, on examination, were found to weigh over 13 stone each. Such dogs that are used to guard property can cause untold havoc, if not disaster, if they escape. This Bill is fine so far as it goes; but the situation is still grave. I hope that the Government will come to their senses and agree to establish a registration scheme very soon.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, I draw the attention of noble Lords to my tie, which shows that I am a friend of Battersea Dogs Home. I like dogs. We are basically 525 discussing pit bull terriers. I was surprised to hear the Minister say that the only way to control pit bull terriers was with a gun or a mallet. According to what I have read in the newspapers, one can hit a pit bull terrier as hard as one likes with a mallet, but if he has someone in his jaws he will not even feel the blow. According to one report I have read, the only sure way to make a pit bull terrier release its hold, apart from killing it, is to shove a hard, long and pointed object up its rectum. It will then release its grip and run off hurt. However, I do not think we wish to see people walking round with long, pointed walking sticks with that object in view.
I have said before in your Lordships' House that I see no earthly reason for keeping pit bull terriers. I received a letter from a lady enclosing a photograph of her husband and three little children with the family's pit bull terrier. She explained that the animal was the family's pet. I replied to the letter saying that I prayed that the pit bull terrier would never turn on her or her family. I repeat that I believe there is no reason to keep a pit bull terrier unless one intends to use it in dog fights. As far as I am aware, that practice is illegal in this country. There is no other reason for keeping a pit bull terrier.
The first two pit bull terriers to come to this country arrived in 1977. I do not know why they were ever let out of quarantine as it must have been obvious what kind of dogs they were. They were known to be fighting dogs. The sooner this country is rid of pit bull terriers, the better. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who said that out of 468 serious attacks recorded in the metropolitan area in 1990, 111 had been committed by pit bull terriers and 357 had been committed by other breeds. Of around 7,000 pit bull terriers in the whole country, probably only a small percentage are to be found in the Metropolitan Police area. The percentage of other breeds in that area is probably higher. Therefore we must take the statistics mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, with a pinch of salt.
Reference has been made to the fact that some owners are not the right kind of people to keep certain dogs and do not provide the right environment for them. But I believe that if one puts any dog trained for a specific purpose in the wrong environment that dog will cause trouble. German shepherd dogs are basically guard dogs. If one puts a guard dog in a small flat he will become bad tempered and the chances are he will bite people. Even a collie which is bred for rounding up sheep can become bad tempered if it is taken out of its natural environment and kept in a small garden. At some stage that dog will become bad tempered.
I cannot speak for all breeds of dog but there are many instances of large dogs being kept in unsuitable surroundings. That is why many of those dogs become vicious. One reads in the newspapers that people who keep pit bull terriers keep them, first, because they think the dogs make them look macho and, secondly, as so-called guard dogs. Many people keep them to protect their drug and other interests. I repeat that we do not need this breed of dog.
526 A few years ago I took part in a Territorial Army annual camp on Salisbury Plain. Some 1,000 Z reservists went on the town in Salisbury and caused havoc. The following day the regular Territorial Army units set up patrols. As a sergeant I picked four or five of the toughest boys in the company. We met up with a police sergeant who was a dog handler. We had heard that that man and his dog had faced a crowd of drunken Z reservists, who had turned and would not go forward against that German shepherd. I asked the police sergeant, "Do you mind if I touch him?" He replied, "No, he won't take any notice. Go ahead". I put my hand down to let the dog sniff it and then patted him. He jumped up, put his paws on my shoulders and licked my face. I do not think that he did that because he thought I was a tasty meal.
Everyone should know that if one goes up to a large dog, especially a German shepherd, approaches it from behind and suddenly touches it, the dog may turn and snap, especially with young children. If one lets the dog know that one is there and puts out one's hand, it will sniff the hand and either turn away or stay. I had great fun with my son who, when he was a small boy, loved any animal. Because we lived in the country I had to make sure that when he saw a dog and wanted to talk to it he let it know that he was there.
I once went to a scrapyard just outside St. Albans. I wanted a part for one of my old crocks. There was no one around so I started walking through the yard. Suddenly one Alsatian came from one direction and another from a different direction. I stopped, stood absolutely still and then very slowly backed away until someone came. I explained what had happened. He said, "That's right, guv. They are trained to guard the yard but provided you don't go ahead they won't touch you". They were well trained dogs doing a useful job.
There are parts of the Bill which worry me. As I understand it, and perhaps the noble Earl will tell me if I am wrong when he replies, if one takes out one of these vicious dogs it has to be muzzled and on a lead. However, most of the pit bull terriers which have attacked people have jumped over or broken through a fence or gone out through a door which was left open. Therefore, young children will still be at risk because one cannot keep a dog on a lead and muzzled all the time.
They say that one cannot teach an old dog new tricks. One certainly can. I have done it. What one cannot do, at least in the short term, is change a dog's genes. A dog is bred for a particular purpose. The original purpose can be bred out of them but that cannot be done overnight. It takes several generations. I am told that in the case of pit bull terriers each generation is bred to be more vicious. That is frightening.
I am told by the noble Baroness who sits in front of me that in Sweden all dogs are registered. There are special areas in parks where dogs can run free, but those areas are contained in some way. That is sensible.
I should like to touch briefly on the question of registration. A national registration scheme may 527 involve an implant in the dog's neck. My noble friend Lord Falkland said that that can work its way to another part of the body. Perhaps the implant could be stitched so that it did not move around.
Such a scheme would be simple. If a dog had an implant, a computer reader could be passed over it or a tattoo could be read. If a dog did not have a tattoo and did not appear on the computer one would know that it had not been registered. Therefore that dog should be taken into custody, kept for so many hours or days and then destroyed.
I cannot see how telling people that they have to register and insure such dogs will help. It will not help at all. There must be registration and if there is to be registration there might as well be registration for all dogs involving a licence fee. Battersea Dogs Home knows all about strays. If a stray had a tattoo, that could be checked and the owner contacted. At present the home keeps dogs for a specified length of time and then, unfortunately, they have to be destroyed. Registration would stop all that.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, every June your Lordships' attention seems to turn to dogs. That will continue until such time as the Government decide to bring all the miscellaneous dog legislation together in a comprehensive Bill dealing with the whole dog problem.
The Government must realise that the great majority of citizens who perhaps a generation ago lived in the country now live in towns—perhaps in flats—and the keeping of a dog in those circumstances is a different problem. That point was made by the noble Earl. Moreover, as our society moves further and further away from the rural scene, our knowledge of animals becomes very remote. My question to my noble friend Lord Ferrers is, therefore, when will the Government bring forward a comprehensive dog Bill to deal with the problem? It was promised last year and was referred to by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in his opening remarks on this Bill (at col. 644 of the Official Report, Commons, of 10th June). Unfortunately, we do not have that piece of legislation before us today. We have a Bill which attempts to deal with a small, albeit sensational, part of the problem—the dangerous dog. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, mentioned that point, and I totally agree with him.
The Government have decided in principle to deal with just one part of the problem. I believe that it is our job as a revising Chamber to accept, albeit reluctantly, that the other place has decided that it wants only that. Therefore, we should try to ensure that the Bill works as well as possible and deal with the details as your Lordships think necessary. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, it is clear that there are many details which need a great deal of attention.
I owe it to your Lordships to say a word about registration. I do not believe that it would help to try to do anything in this Bill. Indeed, I believe that it would hinder the long-term objective of having all 528 dogs registered to move an amendment to introduce registration in the Bill, even though I am convinced and always have been convinced that the dog problem as a whole will not be solved until we have a registration system that links all dogs to owners, not just dangerous dogs as is proposed by the Government in this Bill. Such a registration system, as noble Lords know, would provide the resources to police and the fee could fund a scheme to link dogs to their owners. It would also allow advice to be given to dog owners.
However, I reiterate that I do not believe that this is the time to try again to force the Commons to accept registration, and it would be a question of force. My main reason for that belief is that, even if your Lordships voted for registration, the Commons would reject the proposal again, probably by an even larger majority, not because they are individually against it on its merits but because dog registration has, as the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said, sadly become a major government-opposed issue and as such is supported by the elected majority in the Commons. I hope that the majority of your Lordships will agree that it is wrong for us here to try to overrule any Government on a major issue. We are a revising Chamber and I happen to think that we do not do that too badly occasionally.
I would not support a registration amendment to the Bill for the reasons that I have just given. I suggest that some noble Lords might say that in this Bill it would border on a wrecking amendment. There is a time and a place for everything. This is not the Bill to deal with the registration of all dogs. I believe that to try to do so would prejudice the eventual hope of success in getting the Government to concede the registration issue, as I am confident they will have to in the end.
I am a fisherman and I believe that at the moment the Commons has hooked and lost the registration fish. It is now sulking at the bottom of the pool and any attempt by your Lordships to catch it at the moment would drive it even deeper. I hope that noble Lords will have patience. I hope that I shall have patience too for without doubt we shall catch it in due course. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a speedy passage to prevent further attacks by dangerous dogs.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Jay
My Lords, as the Bill affects not merely pit bull terriers but dangerous dogs generally, I thought that I might usefully make a brief contribution, as it were, from the grass roots.
A little while ago I was walking in a public place—a public lane near a farm on Dartmoor—when I was attacked by seven Irish wolfhounds simultaneously, thrown into the ditch among the grass roots and bitten through the leg. Those dogs were dangerously out of control in a public place. As it happened, a rather junior member of the farm staff arrived and called off the dogs, so I was able to withdraw in fairly good order as a case of walking wounded and I later had a number of stitches in my leg.
I hesitated to call the police until I was urged to do so by all the neighbours in the village, who said that 529 they had been terrorised by the Irish wolfhounds for some years but when any of them attempted to take legal action they had their car tyres slashed at night-time. I therefore decided to go ahead and was given two useful pieces of information by the police whom I contacted.
The first piece of advice was that under English law as it then existed—this was a few years ago—if a dog attacked a sheep, you could get an order from the court straight away to have it destroyed, but if, on the other hand, it attacked a mere human, you could not. You could only, in the first instance, obtain an order stating that it should be kept under proper control and only if it attacked another human—possibly oneself again—could you obtain an effective order.
Secondly, the police informed me that in order to go ahead at all it was necessary for me to identify the precise dog out of the seven that had inflicted the injury—I counted them correctly as seven—in the presence of the police, the owner of the dogs and the dogs themselves. I attempted to do that in the farmyard, insisting on being protected myself by the police car, although the police themselves much more gallantly stayed outside. When I identified, I believe correctly, the principal aggressor among the dogs which had inflicted the injury, the farmer, who was thought to be the owner of the whole Armada of those creatures, replied that he did not own that particular dog. On being further pressed by the police, one of whom incidentally was bitten at this point in the story, he alleged that the dog was owned by his wife. But some weeks later when the case was in court and after the doctor had given evidence that he had put four stitches in my leg that evening, the lady declared, presumably on oath, that her dog was only being friendly.
However, the affair ended reasonably happily. The court made the order and, when I returned to the area a year later, not wishing to be intimidated, I found to my surprise that that farmer and his wife had somehow disposed of the dogs. I ended the episode with considerable respect for the police and some respect for the court of law, which seemed to me to behave in a sensible fashion, but with rather less respect for the law, at least as it was reported to me.
I suppose that the legislation which gives greater protection from dogs to sheep than to mere humans was probably enacted by some Parliament of country landowners in the 19th century, or perhaps even in the 18th century for all I know. However, if the Bill ensures—and I am not yet certain that it does—that, for the purposes of the 21st century anyway, humans will at least be put on an equal footing with sheep in the matter of protection from dangerous dogs, I shall certainly give it my warm support and feel that my brief experience has perhaps not been wholly in vain.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Lord Kimball
My Lords, we are all agreed on the necessity of the Bill, particularly Clause 1, to deal with the problem of pit bull terriers. After all, there is a kind of subculture of people who keep those dogs purely for dog fighting or in order to create no-go areas in certain streets and backyards for their own 530 illegal activities. I am glad that, in introducing the Bill, my noble friend Lord Ferrers dealt with the problem of those few pit bull terriers that are genuine pets. I welcome the exemption scheme. Rather like the firearms legislation, under which you are licensed to have a lethal weapon, you will be licensed to be exempt from the law and your dog will be identified.
I agreed with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, when he said that identification should be by the good, well-tried and old-fashioned method that has stood the test of time over a hundred years; namely, tattooing in the dogs' ears. If they have no ears, they are fighting dogs and should not be kept as pets. I hope that my noble friend will resist any temptation to use other modern devices of identification, because they are not proven. Without wishing to sound a discordant note, I understand that the exemption scheme will be run by an outside authority. Many noble Lords would find it quite unacceptable that that authority should be the RSPCA.
The noble Earl went on to say that other parts of the Bill affect the owners of any dog. I was surprised when the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he believed the Bill was too limited in other ways. I want to be quite frank with the House and say that those of us who are interested in hounds, harriers and beagles are extremely worried about the other consequences of the Bill.
Clause 3 makes it a serious offence for a dog to be:dangerously out of control in a public place".Clause 8(4) states that:a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control [if] there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will cause injury to any person, whether or not it actually does so".Clause 8(2) of the Bill defines a public place in such a way as to include roads, streets, footpaths and bridleways. Private gardens and agricultural land are not included. So the postman going up the garden is not in fact covered. The penalties are extremely severe.
My concern is that the Bill should deal only with dangerous dogs which might attack people. But the offence appears to go much further. Where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a dog will cause injury to a person, an offence is committed, even if no injury is in fact caused.
Packs of hounds, harriers or beagles may run across a road. The huntsman, whipper-in and owner of the hounds could be prosecuted on the grounds that they could have caused injury had a car accident occurred. Obviously hunts make every effort to ensure that accidents do not happen on our roads but inevitably the occasional incident will occur. Last year there were well over a quarter of a million road accidents involving casualties, none of which was caused by hounds. If the worst were to happen, it is already an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988 to permit hounds to be on a public road and not under proper control. In fact all packs of hounds, harriers and beagles have the appropriate third party insurance to meet that problem.
But the new offence created in this Bill goes too far. No defence is provided. A huntsman might have made every conceivable effort to stop his hounds but if they cross the road in front of a car, an offence could still be committed. In the Bill no allowance is made for 531 what is happening in the countryside today and which must be faced. No allowance is made for interference with somebody else's control of his dog. The hunt saboteurs deliberately set out to take hounds out of the control of the huntsmen. There have been countless cases when they have blown horns and called hounds on to roads, causing the hounds to be run over and the risk of further accidents. Yet under the Bill the huntsman would be liable and the saboteurs would have committed no offence. That is completely unacceptable.
It should be made an offence—I shall certainly move an amendment at Committee stage on these lines—to interfere with somebody else's control of his dog. At present the provision is drawn too widely so that a dog may cause injury even if a dog never touches a victim or is never likely to. A person who inadvertently lets his dog stray on to a road commits an offence. In my opinion the Bill should only deal with dogs that are liable to attack people, in which case a dog would only be dangerously out of control if it were likely to injure or attack someone (not just "cause" an injury).
The problem is that as drafted an offence is committed whether or not injury is caused. That may be acceptable in the case of vicious dogs but it will leave hunts vulnerable to anti-hunting campaigners, who will undoubtedly claim that injury is likely to be caused on every occasion that hunts cross a road. During the past winter, packs of hounds, beagles and harriers met on 21,400 occasions throughout the country. Incidents on the road are rare but, to read the reports of the "antis", one would believe that hunts create a risk to road users every day. Those people must not be handed in this Bill a stick with which to beat us.
I endorse the Bill wholeheartedly but I hope to move amendments during Committee stage to cover the points I have mentioned. At this stage, despite those reservations, I feel that we should give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Lord Clifford of Chudleigh
My Lords, we have been privileged to listen to many speakers expressing much researched information and heartfelt opinion. We have also been privileged to read Her Majesty's Government's attempts to take notice of public concern about dangerous dogs in the contents of the Dangerous Dogs Bill 1991.
Our next door neighbours, with whom we are to become more geopolitically entwined and more subject to their opinions and legislative agreements, suffer the same canine worries as we do, but have the added problem of rabies. How many Members of this House have had the opportunity to read the report of Mrs. Anita Pollock (a Member of the European Parliament) on a European system of dog registration or have seen the May 1990 review of the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare entitled Dog Population and Control in Europe? Both documents illustrate the urgent requirement to identify individual dogs and the individual dog owners. As has been said by previous 532 speakers, the onus is on the owner, the person responsible for the dog, as to how that canine is controlled and treated.
The reports also talk of the growth in the dog population over the past five years. It is estimated at about 10 per cent. in the 12 European Community countries. I ask noble Lords to link that figure and that thought with the European Community's ambition to eradicate rabies by 1992. That has now been recognised as not being feasible. Thankfully our stringent quarantine regulations have held the disease at bay—and, by the way, it can be carried by homo sapiens as well. But for how long will that last? Trade barriers are coming down and the Channel Tunnel will make access to this country easier and freer. The numerous ports and harbours that chisel into our island coast give every opportunity for diseased dogs and the diseased minds of lawbreakers to flout our legislation.
We should remember that fox rabies is endemic in Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg, that it can be transmitted to dogs and that the combined owned-dog population of those four countries is 14.5 million. And it is growing. In fact over the past five years it has increased by 15 per cent. On 10th June this year, Mr. Marlow, Member of Parliament for Northampton, North, spoke in the other place of his acute awareness of the disease-carrying potential of dogs. He has a son who is blind in one eye as a result of contact with a dog which had not been wormed properly.
We speak of dangerous dogs. Disease is dangerous. Ill disciplined ownership is dangerous. A confined, energetic dog of any breed can be dangerous. How many urban dog owners lock up their dog while they go out to work? They then return home, open the door and allow their "pet", their hound, to expend its energy and pent up adrenalin on the first individual who may interfere with its suddenly gained freedom. Noble Lords may consider the "guard dogs" cooped up inside during the past two stiflingly hot summers. Irritation is not the correct way to describe the behaviour of such animals.
Some breeds will display nervous aggression and fear of being cornered. They will snap at a playful baby, who is larger than a Chihuahua, if that infant plays unintentionally roughly with the "sweet, little puppy". The child will get its face bitten. Whose fault is it? It is the fault of the parents—the dog's owners.
There is also the dog with direct, inbred aggression. The press—the media—have sensationally informed everyone, without necessarily sensitive thought for the traumatised victim or parents of the savaged child, about the horrifying behaviour of certain dogs. The public at large is undeniably interested—some grotesquely so.
The Dangerous Dogs Bill shows that a positive direction is being taken by Her Majesty's Government—although not before time. In another place on 26th October 1983 Mr. Marlow sought the leave of the House to establish a dog registration scheme. Dame Janet Fookes, Member of Parliament for Plymouth Drake, and other parties, have urged and beseeched 533 that some legislation be introduced to ensure that dog owners are aware of their responsibility when keeping an animal, a carnivore, of the canine breed.
The Bill seeks to encourage more district councils to have dog wardens to collect strays, to ensure that dogs are under control in public places, and to watch that the guard dog, the aggressive-natured dog, the genetically bred fighting dog, wears a muzzle. The Government have promised £250,000 to the district councils of England and Wales to compensate for the destruction of fighting dogs and to encourage correct wardening of the known population of owned dogs, which stands at 7.5 million, quite apart from the 500,000 estimated stray dogs. Those figures may be of use to the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland.
I must argue with the noble Viscount on the identichip. Both my hounds have identichips. I am aware from many vets that the chips do not wander. I have to inform the House that my dogs do not like having their ears interfered with in the slightest, let alone having them tattooed.
We have 333 district councils in England and Wales. Therefore the contribution of £250,000 amounts to £750.75 per district council. Perhaps it would be of interest to hear what happens in some district councils in Devon. The City of Exeter has two wardens to cover its district population of 105,000, with about 21,000 dogs. It budgets £63,000 for the two wardens. Teignbridge District Council serves a population of 100,000. It has one warden and approximately 20,396 dogs. It has a budget of £30,000, £12,000 of which is the warden's wage packet. The City of Plymouth has four wardens to cover a population of 256,000, with approximately 51,200 dogs. It has a budget of £186,500.
Dog numbers cannot be accurate without a dog registration scheme or a census being taken. However, if adults over the age of 18 in this country number 39,222,700, and the dog population is about 8 million, the figure is 0.2 dogs per head. Hence my calculations.
No matter what opinion or views your Lordships may have of the Irish, it is interesting to note that the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is the only body in the European Community which trains dog wardens. I only wish that they could warden their mad dog terrorists as well!
Possibly the finest, most responsible, protective measure in the Dangerous Dogs Bill 1991 is for compulsory third party insurance relating to dogs. It has been mentioned by various noble Lords. Too many people have said, "No worry, my errant hound is covered under my home contents policy". What about the quarter of householders who do not have such a policy and yet possess a dog? According to the Association of British Insurers, there are 24 million licensed vehicles which use the roads. Another 12 million are not licensed, or are "stored". The Motor Insurance Bureau paid out £32 million in 1990 to 25,000 victims of untraced, uninsured motorists. Can Her Majesty's Government see any reason why a similar protection should not be given to the general public in this dog-loving nation when people or livestock are fatally wounded or incurably damaged by a dog whose owner has no insurance cover?
534 A breeder insurance company will give one £2 million third party insurance cover for up to 20 dogs if one pays an annual premium of £17.50. But it will not raise the premium for a pack of 20 pit bull terriers any higher than for a pack of poodles. Third party insurance of dogs would satisfy all dog fanciers, kennel clubs and dog associations. It would cover the child, adult, sheep and livestock mauled or destroyed by one or more of the rampant dogs. It would cover the minor and major road traffic accidents caused in urban and rural locations by dog chasing dog, dog chasing bitch, or dog chasing a play ball.
Third party insurance cover would increase the sense of responsibility of the owner of the dog. It would identify the breed of dog and the address of the owner. It would be of enormous help to the district councils, the police authorities and all affected parties. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. I believe that we should support the Second Reading.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Dulverton
My Lords, I intend to speak briefly partly because my noble friend Lord Kimball—by chance I happen to be sitting next to him—dealt with the major point that I wished to make, as I shall reveal.
We have a serious problem to worry us this day over what are properly described as dangerous dogs. I fear that with a superfluity of zeal we may be in danger of calling many dogs dangerous which are not. We all know which breeds are bred and trained to be aggressive. There have been serious attacks on adults and children in the past few months. Their terrible maim has been well publicised. The purpose of the Bill is to stop such attacks. The Bill refers to the neutering of such animals. In time we can end this totally unacceptable hazard. In the meantime the highest possible penalty for owners of dogs which attack people must be right.
I emphasise that I am entirely in favour of doing whatever possible to stop pit bull terriers and Rottweilers from attacking people. I include dogs which worry sheep in the general category of dangerous dogs. Much damage is done to flocks by uncontrolled dogs worrying and sometimes killing sheep.
Fortunately my own lifetime companions, Labradors, do not go in for such things nor, in my close experience of them, do foxhounds. For goodness sake do not let us make the error of inculpating them and their like for causing accidents to people unwittingly as can happen in, for instance, road accidents. Such incidents may occur. They have nothing to do with our debate yet such dogs could be included in the measures before us.
As regards the central issue, I need only touch upon what I had intended to say because the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, has covered the matter so ably. It is not unusual for hunt saboteurs in their illegal activities to invite interference with hounds. If there is a purposeful interference and an accident takes place, the Master of Foxhounds is liable for the dog which caused the damage even though the incident was the 535 result of intentional provocation. I hope that the issue will be borne in mind during the Committee stage and that a safeguard can be introduced.
In recent years there have been too many instances of the kind of provocation that I have outlined. Yet gundogs, sheepdogs and foxhounds are trained to be civilised. For heaven's sake, let us amend the Bill in the light of the incontrovertible thoughts upon which I have briefly touched.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I too shall be brief. At this stage of the debate a great deal of what one wished to say has already been said. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that he had received advice about what to do when confronted by a dog. When I lived on a farm I was given similar advice about what to do when confronted by a bull. The alternatives were to stare him in the eye or to lie on the ground in the hope that he would trample over me. I was only once confronted by a bull in a field but I waited until I was behind barbed wire before staring him in the eye. That seemed to work, because after a few minutes he snorted and went away.
It is all very well to give people advice but I ask why in the City of London is it necessary to be given advice about being confronted by dangerous dogs? People must be allowed to go about their business and pleasure whether in the city or the countryside. People are always more important than dogs and I should like that statement to be written in capital letters. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that people are even more important than badgers. That may come as a blow to him but I am more concerned about people.
We welcome the Bill which has been a long time coming. We shall try to amend it but we are glad that at last it has been introduced. Last week I picked up my local newspaper and read the headline which stated:Pit bulls 'used like weapons'".The article described a vicious gang of youths who threatened to set a pit bull terrier on a man. They stabbed the man three times in the neck and then took his money. As a contrast the newspaper had another heading, which read:Meanwhile, the police horse savaged by a pit bull is back on duty".That is the kind of incident to which we are being subjected. I talk to members of the police force a great deal. They have pointed out that the owners of such dogs are often criminals. When the police go to arrest them they are often threatened with a pit bull terrier. People are not allowed to use a gun, and rightly so, so why should they be allowed to retain something which is equally dangerous?
We all know that there are some estates—there is one in my borough, which shall remain nameless—where there are so many dangerous dogs that people will not go out at night. Why are people keeping such dogs? Often they do so out of greed; they breed the unfortunate creatures in the back of their flats and sell them for a high price. They do not keep the dogs because they love them. The owners have the dogs because they want to be seen to be macho—I hope 536 that no pit bull terriers are waiting for me when I go outside—and are not the kind of people who love dogs. Let us forget all that nonsense! I recently listened to a phone-in programme. A woman caller said: "My pit bull terrier is sitting on the rug with my two little children and he loves them". My heart went cold because the dog loves them only until he feels differently, when he will turn on them.
It took the terrible incident of the attack on a child to bring the matter to a head. However, for a long time several women's organisations with which I am proud to be connected have pressed for measures to be taken. That is one of the reasons why I am speaking in the debate today. In 1990 a particular organisation carried a resolution asking Her Majesty's Government to license and control the importation and breeding of aggressive dogs. The reply was interesting and came from Mr. Michael Harrison, Assistant Private Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I hope that he still at that department—one has difficulty in keeping up. He stated:As you know, the importation of all dogs is strictly controlled"—that was news to me because I had not realised it—but solely for the purpose of preventing rabies entering this country".That is fine. One of my objections to the Channel tunnel is that I still say that we shall have rats coming down it and shall have to control them. Mr. Harrison continued:These statutory arrangements include the issuing of a licence for each animal imported".This is the interesting part, because he then stated:Even if it were possible in principle to prohibit the importation of these dogs, which have been specifically bred for fighting, it seems unlikely because these are mostly indistinguishable from other strains of bull terrier".That letter was written in 1990 but now in 1991 it appears that there is a distinction. I asked myself what has changed. Perhaps the Government have drawn the measure more widely.
I turn to the Bill. I shall not mention registration. I should love to do so but shall return to the matter. We were warned about mentioning it although I am not sure why. Clause 2 refers to "a public place". That is all very well but the incidents about which I have spoken when police go to a flat are not in a public place. Strictly speaking they occur on private property. Clause 3 states:out of control in a public place".These dogs are out of control, full stop! Therefore we must think carefully about the matter.
I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Richard express anxiety about the Bill's drafting. We are doing his profession a good turn; there is another Bill from which the lawyers can make a great deal of money by arguing about what is aggressive. I plead with the Government to look at the matter carefully. If the provision is merely "in a public place" the owners will obtain a sharp lawyer to say, "But it was not in a public place. This dog was in the porch of the owner's flat".
We have heard about the postmen but not about the police who must face these wretched animals day after day. Some terrible incidents occur but are rarely 537 reported in the newspapers. In carrying out its difficult task our police force must confront some vicious criminals. For heaven's sake, surely it need not also be confronted by vicious dogs! The dogs about which we are talking do not enhance any situation. It would be far better if we did not import them, and perhaps that will be the next step. I congratulate the Government upon introducing the Bill, small as it is, because it is a step in the right direction.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, we should welcome the Dangerous Dogs Bill. It is principally concerned with fighting dogs and immediately that raises the question of why fighting dogs, such as pit bull terriers and Japanese Tosas, are identified and singled out in this legislation compared with other dogs which historically have committed acts similar to those for which pit bulls are now in the news. I believe it is because there is now strong evidence that the pit bull terrier—not a recognised breed in this country but it is recognised in the United States—is over represented in the population of dogs which are involved in attacks on humans.
For example, in a study carried out in the United States about five years ago, an analysis was made of 12 fatalities as a result of attacks by dogs in one year. Seven, of those were caused by pit bulls. That is an inordinately greater number than all the other breeds of dogs put together. Certainly in terms of non-fatal attacks by dogs 50 per cent. of the non-fatal attacks in one year were caused by pit bulls compared with all the other dog breeds. It may be of interest to know that 11 per cent. of those non-fatal attacks were caused by German shepherd dogs.
What may be relevant from those statistics from the United States and relevant to the age at which a pit bull may be owned, which the Minister dealt with briefly, is that a higher proportion of adolescents and adults (54 per cent.) are among the victims of pit bull terriers compared with any other breed in the USA. Therefore, it may well be that there is a case for limiting the age of ownership to individuals beyond the age of 16 years.
Fighting dogs have been established in this country and elsewhere for many centuries, all of which seem to trace ancestry from bulldogs and the days of bull baiting in the 17th and 18th centuries. The fighting dog became very popular in North America after the American Civil War.
Your Lordships may be interested to know that the fighting dogs of the 19th century were disqualified from fighting or bull baiting if they exhibited aggression towards their owners or any other person. Therefore, they were trained very carefully. That long trail of breeding for fighting has had a profound effect on the genetic predisposition of those breeds. It is now known that they fight without provocation or without giving any warning sign. A dog normally gives a warning sign when it is about to attack someone—for example, the milkman or the coalman—by growling or barking. That is not so in the case of pit bulls. They 538 fight until exhausted or even to the death, and they have a high tolerance to pain. Once in the attack, they are neither biddable nor controllable.
The danger of the importation of pit bull terriers was recognised in the early 1970s when anxiety was voiced by several organisations about their importation both from the point of view of the illegal sport of dog fighting and also from their record of attacks on humans elsewhere. There are now some 10,000 pit bulls in this country and, I understand, one lone Japanese Tosa which is to be championed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, later this evening.
Not all pit bulls are dangerous to the extent that they need to be destroyed. The Bill makes allowances for such dogs and their owners by allowing a responsible owner to keep a pit bull for the rest of the dog's natural life provided that certain conditions are complied with; namely, muzzling and leashing in public, neutering, insurance and so on.
Eventually the pit bull will disappear provided that the law is strictly enforced. However, let us make no mistake about it, the so-called sport of dog fighting, which has been illegal for many years, is still practised in this country. That is why pit bulls were originally imported in the 1970s. Although it is illegal, it still takes place. The macho image referred to by my noble friend Lord Kimball still exists and it may become even more macho when the ownership of a pit bull becomes strictly controlled or illegal. Therefore, strict enforcement will be needed.
I hope that wide consultation will take place, as promised by the Minister, regarding the extension of the legislation to other dogs. I know that the British Veterinary Association is against singling out a particular breed. It believes that the way ahead is to target aggressive individuals rather than a particular breed.
The problems caused by dangerous dogs will be solved only when dog owners appreciate that they are responsible for the actions of their animals. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will consider the feasibility of licensing owners to possess a dog or dogs. A pack of hounds would be covered by that scheme. One would then licence a person to own a dog just as it is possible for a person to be licensed to own a gun or a car. Therefore, I hope that the Minister may consider a scheme which licenses the owner rather than the dog.
There is precedent for that—namely, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act. In that case, an owner is licensed to own a dangerous animal but a dangerous dog is not included in that legislation.
Finally, I support my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley in his request to consider the feasibility of a comprehensive dog Bill. There are at least 20 pieces of legislation—if not more—pertaining to companion animals. I believe that it is time for a consolidation Bill to clarify what is a confused situation in that respect.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Lord Hayter
My Lords, I join issue with the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, as regards Clause 3. I do that not for the sake of hunting dogs but as regards a much more serious matter. The penalties contained in Clause 3 apply to situations in which dogs are 539 dangerously out of control. If one wishes to know what that means, it cannot be more clearly set out than it is in Clause 8(4) which states:For the purposes of this Act a dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there arc grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will cause injury to any person, whether or not it actually does so".That is sensible in one way when one thinks of the dangers to which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred. Protection must be given to individuals who are in the neighbourhood of a violent dog. However, the point of my observation is that that same phrase which I read out applies to police dogs, to service dogs and to dogs owned by security companies.
Let me return to the famous debate in the other place, which took 12 hours. The Home Secretary said that Clause 3:will be a powerful means of ensuring that the owners of all dogs, whatever the type, take proper steps to ensure that they are kept properly under control … The measure will apply to any dog and its owner".—[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/91; col. 652.]It is quite clear, though it may not be intentional, that that applies to all police dogs.
What follows? If one studies the Home Office Standing Advisory Committee report on police dogs, it recognises that they can be trained—which takes three months with a three-week refresher course every year—and used to combat housebreaking, robberies, burglaries, to search premises or locations, to find missing persons, to recover articles at the scene of a crime, to deal with rowdyism, to chase after fleeing criminals and to carry out general patrol and security duties. Noble Lords will see immediately that in almost every one of those cases the element of apprehension on the part of the criminal—the person fleeing—is essential. Therefore the handler of a police dog may be guilty of a criminal offence.
I shall give two examples. I said that the dogs are trained to locate criminals. In fact they are taught to do one of two things; either to chase and attack or to chase and stand off. In every case they give grounds to the criminal,for reasonable apprehension that the dog will cause injury … whether or not it actually does so".The second example concerns dogs that are trained to deal effectively with small groups of hooligans. By chance I happened to see exactly that at Epsom station around 10 years ago when one man with his dog brought under control around 10 youths. Again, the dog gave,grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will cause injury … whether or not it actually does so".Where does one go from here? Does it matter whether we abolish all police dogs? Of course it does; that is hardly worth arguing about. The Bill went through in the House of Commons in 12 hours. I suggest that discussions should take place with the Home Office Standing Advisory Committee on Police Dogs—I believe it is quartered at Imber Court, near Thames Ditton in Surrey. While police officers not on duty must comply with the Bill when taking their dogs into a public place, Clause 8(4) should be so interpreted that "dangerously out of control" should 540 not apply to police dogs or service dogs being used for operational duties such as preventing crime or arresting criminals.
It is not for me to suggest whether or not an amendment needs to be introduced into the Bill, or whether a provision can be combined in an order from the Secretary of State. But I make this point: however the matter is dealt with in the Bill there is a public relations angle. I happen to know that police dog handlers are extremely worried about the situation and are entitled to know where they stand. I feel also that the public must be kept fully informed for the sake of preserving an important element in the security of our country.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, I warmly welcome the provisions in the Bill. I congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on the swiftness with which he acted, and the Government on the urgency with which they pursued this course of action to avoid further tragedies caused by pit bull terriers. I am satisfied that it is a good remedy, as far as it goes.
I am not too concerned with the aficionados of pit bulls who claim that the requirements of the Bill will drive the breeding of pit bulls underground. I do not see how that can easily be achieved. Those responsible for enforcement, or indeed any member of the public, on seeing a pit bull in public, unmuzzled, unleashed and un-neutered, will note the obvious and report it. Penalties will have to be paid and the owner either forced to comply with the law or have the dog destroyed. Even pit bulls bred underground will have to come out eventually; they will be caught and the penalties imposed.
So far, so good. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the Home Secretary in another place made clear and precisely defined what a "public area" is. On that occasion he said that he did not consider that a dog was confined if it was, for example, in front of a house when a postman called. I am still concerned about what may happen when a registered or licensed pit bull terrier, in its own home-confined area, unmuzzled, unleashed although neutered, as it is allowed to be, manages to escape either by overcoming the fence (which is not unknown), by attacking its owner (which is not unknown), or by escaping through a momentarily disregarded open door (which is also not unknown). All that is still possible. That is why I, who am second to none in my love of dogs—not even the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby—was more comfortable with the Home Secretary's original edict which required all pit bulls to be destroyed, given the character and record of those dogs. I only hope that those experts and "interested parties" who pressed the Home Secretary to permit the reprieve of those dogs, will take full responsibility should the scenario that I described occur and a human life be lost or a human being maimed.
I accept that the safeguards in the Bill, including the insurance requirements, are a good first step. I say that because I should like to see the powers in Clause 2 541 enacted in relation to Rottweilers, German shepherds, and any other dog of a size, character and biting power that could constitute a menace to or harassment of the public. I refer especially to the reserve powers that may require such dogs to be muzzled in public places. Indeed, they should apply to any dog that constitutes a menace. Of course they would not apply to guard dogs as they would not be unleashed in public places. Nor would they apply to hounds. I accept the concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords in that regard.
It costs so little in time, money or discomfort to the dogs of the breeds I have described to muzzle them in public places. Such dogs can be unpredictable and they possess the power to get out of the control of reasonable human strength. It takes only moments for such logs to inflict the most horrifying injuries and even death to persons as well as to other smaller dogs. Such a small requirement could avert tragedy and untold suffering. It would also avoid the fright and harassment of both people and their dogs who are using the paths, countryside and indeed the roads outside their own homes, peacefully with their own pets but who never do so without the nagging fear of what may be lurking round the corner.
To those who urge registration I say this. When I am out at with my small dogs and I see a Rottweiler coming round the corner, I do not care whether or not it is registered; I do not care who the owner is or whether it has a tattoo in its ear; I want to see it muzzled. That is the difference. Those who do not wish to muzzle their potentially dangerous dogs in public either want their dogs to be able to bite somebody or want them to appear to be able to bite somebody. They are the psychopathic canine terrorists who use their dogs as weapons and deliberately aggravate their aggressive tendencies. There are also the "bad owners" referred to who do not exercise or feed their large dogs properly and who leave them shut up at home all day. People who do not possess adequate exercise facilities should not be allowed to keep dogs. But they are allowed to do so. That is why I believe that the public should be safeguarded against what are often the repercussions of their neglect.
So much for the bad owners. But in the past weeks since the Bill was mooted, we have heard a great deal from the good owners of pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherd dogs and others, about how well behaved, obedient, loving and lovable their particular softies are. They may be absolutely right, but they might just be wrong. Is this a chance that we should allow them to take with other people's lives for the sake of a little muzzle? The Home Secretary said in another place that to require a whole breed to be muzzled in public is a serious thing. I say it is a small thing when one thinks of the seriousness of the possible consequences of not doing so in the case of the very large and powerful dogs. I accept that any breed of dog can produce a bad dog just as the human race can produce a bad owner. But when the dog is small and without the tremendous strength and biting 542 power of the breeds I have mentioned, that small dog, however fierce, can be picked up, removed and controlled with reasonable ease and speed.
Having said all that, I do not believe that any dog, however small, should be allowed out or alone with a small child at any time. Many of your Lordships will recall that a few years ago a child was killed by two small Jack Russell dogs. It is foolish for parents to allow children to be alone with such dogs.
I now turn to the matter of enforcement. Concern has been expressed that the guidance of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor should be sought as to the consistency of penalties imposed in magistrates' courts under Clause 3. My own experience in relation to the Dogs Act 1871 regarding a fierce attack on my own, good, well-behaved Jack Russell by a vicious Weimaraner is not one to render me sanguine in that respect although I would like the Weimaraners to be among those dogs that are muzzled.
I understand that the problem about trying to get a dangerous dog put down under the 1871 Act is that if the magistrate fails to order that initially, legal precedent has made it difficult to obtain such an order when the dog offends for the second time. More important, even if the dog has killed a person, it takes time to get the case into the magistrates' court while the dog lives on. There is no automatic remedy available to the police. As I look at the provisions in the Bill that remedy is still missing. Even when the case gets to court, the magistrate may still choose not to rule that the dog be destroyed even though it may have killed a person. Therefore, I sincerely hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will feel able to give the necessary guidance at a very early stage after the Bill is enacted.
Finally, I turn to the representations that have been made in this debate and in another place about registration. The Bill is about the control of dangerous dogs; registration is about avoiding straying and punishing ill-treatment. That is another matter, possibly worthy of your Lordships' consideration, but not in the context of the Bill. Even if I thought (which I do not) that registration was the answer to the problem it seeks to overcome, I would not be willing to interrupt or delay for one moment the passage of this very important Bill. It is an urgent Bill. I hope that it will eventually be extended. In the meantime it should deal quickly and effectively with a serious menace to the public, and I welcome it.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, say what he did about the present position of registration. I am glad that we are not to have, as the Commons did, a re-run of the registration debate on this Bill. Registration arose as an issue only when the dog licence fee was abolished. When I first made my report about dogs in society 18 years ago, that is when the debate began as far as I am concerned. We assumed then —and all subsequent discussion for 543 years afterwards also assumed—that the dog licence fee would continue. The question was how much it was to be.
One thought was that if the dog licence fee was too high it could result in cruelty to dogs, as owners might throw them out rather than pay the fee. I believe that I have mentioned once before that when I was in government from 1964 onwards, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Mr. Crossman, came to the Cabinet with a proposal to uprate all licences to bring them into line with the change in the value of money. The one exception was the dog licence fee. The reason was that he had been told by the RSPCA that if the fee was increased people would turn their dogs out onto the streets. The RSPCA was not going to get into the business of destroying those dogs. That is what deterred the Government at that time.
No one uprated the licence fee from that time. The attitude became languid and the amount of money collected did not pay for the cost of administration. Apathy surrounded the whole matter. The Conservative Government let the fee lapse.
Then registration became the issue. If we had a dog licence fee, which I believe we should, that would cover the registration. The licence fee was discontinued and that is why we began to hear so much about registration. However, registration without a fee brings into the minds of British people the danger that the register will be used to their disadvantage. Why do we have this inbred objection to an identity card? It is because we know what the Nazis did with them. We believe that if we disclose our names and addresses they may be used for some other purpose. If we had to carry a photograph and so forth, the same fears would arise. There are inbred feelings that a register may be an instrument of tyranny or arbitrary government.
I believed at the time of the earlier discussions on registration—and I still do—that registration is necessary, but not as a separate item in the dog agenda. We want registration when it is linked with something positive so that we know what it is for. If there is a purpose to registration we should have it, but not the other way round. We should not have a register first and then begin to make up our minds how we can profitably or unprofitably use it. I could not believe my ears when I heard that in another place on 10th June registration was spatchcocked into an attenuated debate on the Bill in order to give it a fresh airing and press the issue to a Division. That was lunacy. It seems that this of all times is not the moment when people will submit to enforced registration without asking what it is to be used for.
If any extension of the category of prohibited dogs was embarked on, it would mean a new round of identifying where they were. If there was a register which showed where they all were the police could find them by consulting the register. But a register could not be introduced in time to deal with the administration resulting from the Bill. Anyway, we have dropped the register from our discussions on the Bill, and that is satisfactory.
544 My next point is apropos the smaller moonbeam in the larger lunacy, the Japanese Tosa dog. The importance of this dog is that he is mentioned in the Bill. If the Bill goes through as it is he will be the star dog in the Act—the only one of his kind; a dog that was legislated against because he was a dangerous dog. He will have to go through the full treatment: lose all his equipment and be mutilated. He has come over here as a show dog. He came out of quarantine only in April. Certainly there has not been much time for him to establish a reputation for being dangerous. He is a beautiful dog. When I met him he was so affectionate that I thought I was going to be killed by kindness. He was of such height and girth that woe betide a small man like me who tries to embrace a Japanese Tosa dog if he wants to put his paws on one's shoulder. I had to be a little careful.
I urge the Minister to be cautious about describing this dog. These are dogs that most people have never seen. They do not have the faintest idea whether the dog is dangerous; they take everybody else's word for it. I see that the BVA, in a document sent out only a day or two ago, referred to the Japanese Tosa as being an extraordinarily dangerous dog to the general public. Where is the evidence for that? It does not come in those terms from Japan. It may be that this dog is the Japanese canine ambassador to Britain, so we should talk about him with respect; otherwise we could have a diplomatic incident to contend with. We do not want trouble with Japan over the Tosa dog in Britain.
All I am saying is that when we come to the Committee stage it is no good talking about the Japanese Tosa dog breed. We have banned others from coming here. There is no female for him. He is under contract not to be crossed with anything else, and all the rest of it. He is registered in America and in Japan but he is not registered here because the Kennel Club does not have a class for the Japanese Tosa dog. That is the position.
The Minister should apply his mind to the future of this dog. He cannot just say that he is another dangerous dog and he goes with the others. No. He is a dog of quality. There is no doubt about that. I am quite ready to bring him here and walk him up and down during the Committee stage so that your Lordships can see him. He would create a lot of attention outside, I can tell you. But I shall not dwell upon that. I would not like to suggest that he might disperse the population between here and Whitehall, but at least there would be considerable public interest. He is worth looking at.
Now I have a few less pleasant things to say. To listen to the noble Earl this afternoon, with his competent, businesslike and clear exposition of the Bill, with his courteous delivery and his handsome style, one might think that if the Government are like him, they cannot be as bad as people say they are. But the truth is that they are not all like him. The noble Earl is a front man and behind him is a long trail of incompetence and indifference which is absolutely unbelievable in the history of government. We all have to take some responsibility for the situation. We have made a dreadful mess of it. We ought not to deal with 545 such issues as an emergency and rush into legislation. It is our neglect and our failure to deal with this matter years ago that I have brought about this situation.
Do your Lordships realise that the first legislation on dangerous dogs was the Dogs Act of 1871? That was not the criminal law but legislation which enabled magistrates to order the owner of a dangerous dog to bring it under control. That Act was not amended until 1989, when the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced. Dame Janet Fookes piloted it through the House of Commons and I piloted it through the House of Lords. That was the first time that the 1871 Act had been amended, which shows how long we took to deal with that aspect of dog control.
The 1989 Act, which has hardly had time to get into operation, empowered magistrates to be much sterner over dangerous dogs. It is a great pity that we are having to introduce as an emergency a roll-over exercise on issues we have been dealing with in bits and pieces over recent years.
If your Lordships want to read a nice potted case against this Bill, I would recommend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory's reply to a debate in Standing Committee H of the House of Commons on 20th March 1990. It was a very good and interesting debate with a new idea— that local authorities should have the power to designate areas which excluded dangerous and other dogs that might create a disturbance among the public or generally be a source of worry to people round and about. The Minister dealt with that as he dealt with a number of other suggestions. He dismissed them all. What did he say? This is so short that I hope the House will bear with me. I quote from col. 1346 of the Official Report:Hon. Members mentioned dangerous breeds of dogs they think should be banned. That would not solve the problem, because many of the most dangerous attacks have been carried out by cross-bred dogs—mongrels. To specify breeds would invite cross-breeding. The American pit bull terrier is not a recognised breed in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) piloted a comprehensive and powerful Bill through the House last year, which became the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989. It gives courts extensive powers to ensure the destruction of dangerous animals, increases the penalty for failure to comply with a control order and empowers courts to disqualify the owner from owning any dog in the future".It is as well to bear in mind that this is a law on the statute book. If that had been in operation—it has not yet been fully put into operation—we might have had a very different state of affairs now.
I would also ask your Lordships to bear in mind that one of the last acts of the Government in the last Session on 31st October 1990 was to hitch on to the Environmental Protection Bill a whole list of new safeguards and conditions of dog control which they sent back to the Commons as an alternative to losing the vote on the reinstatement of the registration clause. It was used as a weapon against the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, who was still sponsoring the registration scheme. All that went back to the Commons, was passed as a matter of urgency and straight away received Royal Assent. That is what happened there.
Indeed, had your Lordships' House acted differently, political history would have been different because Sir Geoffrey Howe was waiting for the result 546 of the vote in your Lordships' House on that clause before he could go to the Prime Minister and resign. If we had rejected the Government's overture and stuck by the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, Sir Geoffrey Howe would not have been able to cross the road and hand his resignation to the Prime Minister. One can imagine how different history might have been if we had held him back from the most momentous step in his life, and perhaps the death knell of the Prime Minister.
Another thought that occurs to me is that this so far is the most intelligent, the most comprehensive and the most sober debate on dogs and dog control that I have had the privilege and honour of listening to in 40 years in Parliament. Why is this, my Lords? I shall tell you. It is because for some reason—congenital or otherwise—governments have wanted dogs to be dealt with as part of the Private Members' Bill procedure. Governments have not wanted to introduce a government Bill on animals, still less a comprehensive Bill on animals. Nor have they wished to introduce a comprehensive Bill on dogs. Therefore, it has been left to the hazards of the Private Members' Bill procedure.
It has not been possible for us to cobble together a comprehensive Bill on dog control which would stand up to scrutiny and the trials of administration without government help. Governments alone can introduce a Bill of that kind. We can only chip at it. It took me three years to get a Private Member's Bill through Parliament to bring to an end the sale of pet animals in open markets. That matter had been discussed for 13 years when I took it up. The Government would not take it up. The Government would not take up even the Dangerous Dogs Bill that Dame Janet Fookes introduced into the House of Commons. However, the Private Members' Bill procedure is either to go to the bran tub and have legislation by lottery; or to use the Ten Minute Rule Bill procedure where one makes one's speech and is given leave to introduce one's Bill. The Bill is then placed on the Clerk's Table and is not seen any more. That is the obstacle that we have had to overcome in another place in order to get any Bill before Parliament.
If we were able to pass these Bills, they would go down the corridor and stay there unless they were taken up by a Member in another place. Does the public realise that this antique procedure in Parliament lies at the root of the apathy and incompetence which was shown previously when dealing with dog legislation? Another point is that part of the package that we had on the Environmental Protection Bill as recently as the 31st October was the leash and tag provision. At least, if we have not added it to that Bill, it has a reference to the powers which are in the hands of the local authorities. However, none of this adds up to anything substantial in dog control.
Then something happens: fights have taken place. There are as many pit bull terriers in Britain now—or almost as many—as there have been for quite a time. It is a tragic coincidence that the attacks, especially on children, all came at the same time. The mutilated face of one child on television is the mutilated face of a million children. The public has no idea about the odds and the risks. I wish we could republish the 547 Dimbleby lecture of the late Lord Rothschild on the risks and hazards of life. One should not think, "If it had not been that child, it might have been mine", as if the odds are even. We know the odds are not even; the odds are a million to one. However, people do not see it in that light.
If only the Government had had more sense when this situation blew up and had pleaded for a calmer spirit! The gutter press was screeching its head off and levelling disgraceful abuse against the Home Secretary. The press was hysterical, and the Home Secretary lost his head. What can be made of a Home Secretary who on a Wednesday announces that the only solution for this terrible emergency situation is to exterminate all dangerous dogs—one day he announces that thousands of innocent dogs are to be sentenced to death. He then consults and thinks the matter over and then, a few days afterwards, he says, "I now reprieve the lot of them," commuting the sentence to genital mutilation and imprisonment for life. What are we to think of a Home Secretary who does that sort of thing? The situation should be calmed down.
I know that it was a period during which any Minister—especially the Prime Minister—stroking his chin in contemplation, would hear the cry, "Ditherer, ditherer!". What can one do in a democracy with a press like that? I shall not repeat what one newspaper had on its front page about the Secretary of State. No doubt he has been deeply wounded; but he is fairly brash and tends to be a bit rash. The Home Secretary's job requires a sturdy man; a strong character; an even temperament; someone who can carry a crisis. For the Home Secretary a crisis can arise any day of the week. Henry Brooke once said to me, "One morning I got up and I thought, 'I have no problems today'." Then the telephone rang. A man who was being extradited to the United States slit his wrists on the aeroplane just as it was landing at Heathrow. The man was bleeding to death and had to be taken off the plane and sent to hospital. Of course the wires were soon buzzing. Japan said, "We don't want him sent to us". America said, "We want him to come to us". And there he was having to be bandaged up! So what should one do with him? That is the sort of life the Home Secretary has. He has to be ready for that type of problem. However, if the press are barking at his heels all the time, it is impossible to give a sober judgment. A few mottos ought to be around in the Home Office such as the President of the United States is alleged to have. There are supposed to be mottos everywhere: "The what-is-it stops here, and the something starts somewhere else". That is what people see as they go along the corridors, I believe.
However, I have said enough to lead to my conclusion. If only we had the time, I am sure that the answer would be to send the Bill to a Select Committee. It would pay for us to do a real job of work on which our reputation stands high. Evidence could be taken. What is the evidence of this emergency? How many dog bites have there been 548 lately? In what circumstances have they taken place? There is no evidence that we are in the middle of an emergency.
I suggest that before we embark on a Bill which will take away civil liberty and individual freedom, we must be careful that we have the evidence on which to do it. Above all, we have to bear in mind what this Bill will do to a large number of innocent dog owners who have docile dogs, whatever they may be called, but which are under control.
Although a dog has been acquired and kept according to the law; and although the owner has done his duty as a citizen, we are now going to say that at the end of November the dog owner will be a criminal if he still has that dog but has not gone through all the processes prescribed in the Bill. The owner will not have done anything wrong or infringed the law in any way. But if the owners just sit on their backsides, we shall turn them from being honourable citizens into being criminals: "We shall send you to gaol and impose a heavy fine on you, and heaven knows what else, if you persist in martyrdom".
It is a draconian state of affairs to give the Secretary of State power to enlarge this area of distress and to enforce these conditions on the owners of dogs without any forewarning or without any justification except that which the Minister may feel important. We have to be careful that we are not going along with this emergency Bill without realising that we are going into some very deep water in terms of civil liberty and individual freedom. As the House of Lords, we cannot ignore that aspect of the matter.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Radnor
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is a difficult act to follow, certainly as regards dog legislation and possibly even on political analysis and recent events. I never realised that the noble Lord played such an important part in what might be called "high affairs" or world affairs. Further, I probably should not be speaking in this debate. I say that because I have never actually seen a pit bull terrier and I no longer keep a dog. I live in an enormous house and very soon found that dogs could not quite tell where indoors and outdoors were. Therefore, at the end of the day, I thought that it would be best for me not to have a replacement.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who said that no emergency was taking place at present. It is quite obvious that the Bill relates to about 10,000 pit bull terriers which have come into the country since the 1970s. The figures which we have heard, if I remember rightly, indicate that they produced a large quantity—about one third—of the accidents. No one has mentioned how serious they are. They are probably much more serious than those involving other dogs. It does in point of fact constitute an emergency and justify a Bill of this nature.
Having said that, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, as he well knows, that there must be a proper registration scheme at some stage. It should be brought forward in a separate Bill. It should 549 become a separate Act, together with any consolidations needed. It should not be tacked onto a Bill, such as the one before the House today.
However, it is important that this Bill is targeted, as I imagine it is intended to be, straight at what I and obviously the Government see to be the problem of vicious dogs bred for fighting doing a great deal of damage. At the same time, we must look behind the dog to see the kind of person who owns such a dog, who wants to fight dog against dog, who wants, as we have heard this afternoon, to set dogs upon people to rob them, and so on. I shall return later to that point.
I turn now briefly to the Bill. It seems to me that Clause 1 deals with a large part of the situation. It states which dogs the Bill applies to, including the poor Tosa which, apparently, is no longer in the country. In paragraph (c) it refers to,any dog of any type designated for the purposes of this section by an order of the Secretary of State, being a type appearing to him to be bred for fighting or to have the characteristics of a dog bred for that purpose".I cast my eye from that part of the Bill to Clause 2. I came to the conclusion that Clause 2 was superfluous. It deals with a sort of stand-by situation covering, presumably, every sort of dog imaginable. At the beginning it says:If it appears to the Secretary of State that dogs of any type",and so on. That seems to me to be a woolly and unsatisfactory expression. It appears that the real danger is dealt with in Clause 1. Perhaps with one addition to that clause, we may feel able to dispose of Clause 2. I say that because it will then ensure that the category of dangerous dogs is confined to those which are obviously fighting dogs.
I said that we must look behind such dogs to consider their owners. It seems that the Bill is designed to phase out the pit bull terrier. If it is passed, as I hope it will be, that will happen over a period of time. However, I do not think that people will be phased out. I believe that there will still be people who will want to fight dogs for money and who will want to badger bait and attack people with their dogs. They will soon find other breeds of dog, some of which have already been mentioned this evening, to breed and train to do so.
On the whole, I should like Clause 1 to stand as it is at present and Clause 2 to be removed, except for that part which obliges the Secretary of State to have advisers of the veterinary sort, such as the RSPCA, and so on. Therefore, if Clause 2 was removed, Clause 1 would have to incorporate not only a provision of that nature but also one which provided for a Standing Committee, such as the Farm Animal Welfare Council. I am told that the council exists for the benefit of farm animals. It is an effective and useful advisory body. It is always there and can be referred to; it is not a body which is established only when an emergency takes place.
I should like to refer to a few of the points made by other speakers. The description "dangerously out of control" which appears later in the Bill in Clause 3 worries me. The description of a "public place" seems fairly clear; indeed, it includes a great deal of our country. It refers to the streets, the New Forest, the 550 moors and all sorts of places, including Underground stations, and so on. However, are we thinking of a dog being dangerously out of control in a vicious manner, or will the provision cover a situation where, for example, a little terrier runs to greet an old man on a bicycle coming down the road who subsequently wobbles, falls down and breaks his neck? It seems to me that there should be a better description than that which exists in the Bill at present.
Apart from that, I do not have too many criticisms to make. I entirely agree with the hunting people who point out that hounds can be lured onto a road so that those who are against hunting can achieve their ends by a different means from that which is used at present. Having said that, and in the event of Clause 2 being removed—or, at least, careful consideration being given to it—I wish the Bill well.
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord Milne
My Lords, I intend to be very brief in what I have to say. My concern with the Bill is that, while dealing satisfactorily in Clause 1 with dogs bred to fight, it does virtually nothing to put an instant curb on the aggressive breeds, some of which are known to be dangerous and to have caused the majority of incidents so far.
The effect of Clause 2, which is designed to deal with those types of dogs not specifically bred for fighting, is to impose the relatively mild sanction of leading and muzzling in public; but only after enough incidents have occurred to make them statistically significant, or Clause 3 has been triggered. If two fighting dogs can be named in Clause 1, why should not notably aggressive types such as Rottweilers and Dobermanns be named in Clause 2 for immediate imposition of muzzling and leading in public?
I do not believe that any reasonable owner would object to the exemptions in special circumstances provided for in Clause 2(2). The margin of difference between Clause 1 and Clause 2-type dogs is so slim that there are bound to be more dreadful accidents which muzzling would prevent. I am sure that the public, and anyone subsequently involved, will see things that way.
The Minister has said that he intends to make insurance a condition for the retention of neutered Clause 1-type animals. The owners of all dogs should be required to have insurance. The cost might make the potential owners of some types of dog think again and some of the problems caused by irresponsible ownership might disappear.
There are other problems such as hygiene, identification and so on. To be of any value, restrictions must be enforced, and that costs money. We have heard that a probing amendment relating to registration was discussed and defeated in another place. Nevertheless, I feel that dog owners should be made to pay for the costs they give rise to, and registration fees would cover those costs and help to solve many other problems.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, like almost everyone else who has spoken, I support the Bill so far as it goes. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Milne, and other noble Lords, that all potentially dangerous breeds should be muzzled. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, is not in her place. She appeared to suggest that muzzling would be an alternative to a dog registration scheme. I do not agree with her. Dogs bred for fighting have no place in a civilised society. The sooner that they are no longer seen on our streets, the better it will be.
I have two questions which I hope the Minister will be able to answer. How will the police apprehend stray dogs? I hope they will not be armed with a long stick, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested. Perhaps they could have a tranquilliser dart. There must be some way of enabling the police to take such dogs into control without putting themselves at risk of being savaged. Once the strays have been collected, how will the police identify them? Is it intended that as part of the—I understand that I am not allowed to call it a registration scheme—identification scheme it will be possible to identify dogs by a tattoo mark or in some other way?
The requirement that dogs should be kept on a lead and be muzzled while in a public place is welcome, but what is a lead? I almost came to grief in Cambridge last weekend. A man came along towing a small but active dog on the end of a 10-foot piece of string. I did not see the piece of string or the dog until the man had long passed me. No one could say that that dog was under control. I question whether it could be said to be on a lead. It may be necessary to define a lead at some stage.
Despite the discussions that have taken place this afternoon, I am still worried about postmen, milkmen and other delivery men. There seems to be some confusion about whether the front garden or the path up to the back door—if that is what the milkman uses—is a public place. That point needs to be cleared up. With dogs as savage as pit bull terriers and some of the others we are talking about controlling, the old adage that they are allowed one bite at the postman is not good enough. One bite from one of those dogs can be serious. We must have a clear ruling on that point. If it is decided that the front garden or the back path are not public places, and that dogs can roam free there, the owners of such dogs should be required to place a delivery point at the edge of their property so that it is not necessary for postmen or milkmen to enter. That is common sense.
Other noble Lords have said that the Bill does not address the problems of irresponsible ownership generally. For example, the NFU points out that it does nothing about dogs that worry sheep. Other noble Lords have spoken eloquently on that point. I shall not go into the figures regarding serious attacks in the metropolitan area because that has been done by a number of speakers. Even if we deal with attacks on people, we are left with the problems of fouling, accidents caused by strays, and all the other difficulties that were identified in our previous long and tedious discussions about dog registration.
552 My noble friend Lady Phillips said that we had been warned off registration. I do not intend to be warned off. I have something to say about it. The Home Secretary apparently accepts that registration is an essential element in the control of dangerous dogs, otherwise he would not suggest the system put forward in the Bill, which is registration by any other name. Why is he so blind to the fact that registration is an essential element—not a solution—in the battle against all the other problems that have been mentioned? How otherwise will dog wardens be financed, strays identified and returned to their owners, and a realistic third party insurance scheme be designed?
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, was worried about the cost of dog registration and the numbers involved. According to the latest figures I have been given, there are about 7 million dogs. However, without a registration scheme we cannot be sure of that figure. There is a computer at Wood Green which already caters for a privately run registration scheme. It is capable of dealing with 80 million pets. That is a far greater number than is ever likely to be involved in a dog registration scheme. It is calculated that each registration would cost between £11 and £15. All the organisations that supported the concept of a dog registration scheme continue to support it. All those Members of Parliament and Members of this House who supported such a scheme previously continue to support it, and many of them have said so. They have been joined by others who are now convinced.
We are told, as my noble friend Lord Richard said, that there is no point in pursuing the matter on this occasion because many of the scheme's supporters do not wish to add to the Government's present embarrassment. The noble Lord, Lord Stanley, gave sound reasons, which I accept, as to why this House should not pursue dog registration in the Bill. In the other place, the decision not to pursue it resulted from a form of political manoeuvring which undermines the credibility of politicians. I am reluctant to be party to it. The reality is that any attempt to amend the Bill so as to implement existing powers to introduce a registration scheme will merely lead to a long debate in which all the old arguments will be repeated. At the end of the day there will be a defeat in the Lobbies with nothing to show except a waste of public money, so I am glad that my noble friend will not pursue that matter at later stages of the Bill, although I am unhappy about the principle. I must remind the House again that the power to start a registration scheme already exists. It can be implemented when a sufficiently enlightened Secretary of State decides to act. The scheme does not need, as my noble friend Lord Houghton said, to be spatchcocked into anything. The power exists in the Environmental Protection Act, and my party is committed to implementing it.
Meanwhile, the Bill is a useful, if limited, tool. I hope that your Lordships will agree to give it a Second Reading and that we can strengthen it in some of the ways that have been suggested today. There are also 553 many points which need clarification. With those amendments, I hope that the Bill will soon pass into law.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I welcome the Bill and support Clause 1. I find Clause 2 unusual because it states that orders may be made concerning, "specially dangerous dogs". I have a Staffordshire bull terrier, a "Staffy", which is a very English type of dog. I love him dearly, he is now 10 or 11 years old. When pit bull terriers are mentioned on television, often a picture of a Staffy is flashed up which I find disconcerting. He has got into two bad fights. The first was when he was playing in the front garden of our home. At the time we lived next door to the American school which President Reagan was to visit the next day. Special security was put on with giant Alsatian guard dogs. One rushed into our front garden and attacked my Staffy who responded and I must say he won. Much to my distress, I had to go to see the guard when I returned from your Lordships' House at about midnight, in order to pacify him because he was insulted that his dog was injured by the Staffy. It was not badly injured but there was a dog fight.
The other occasion was when my husband took the dog out on the street but not on the lead. Along came another Australian like my husband, with his dog—a Labrador, also not on a lead. The two dogs got into a fight and I thought how typical it was that both Australians should have thought there was no reason for their dogs to be on a lead. There was quite a nasty fight and the two dogs could not be separated. In the end, my husband separated them, but if one attempts to do so in the middle of a fight one suffers for it. Since that day, my dog has never been out of the house off the lead. I take him regularly to Hyde Park, my husband does so even more than I but the dog is always on a lead. I never take him off the lead for that reason.
It is always a Yorkie that rushes up to attack my dog. I do not know whether it is because Yorkies are only the size of threepence, but for some reason they feel that they have to show that they are big macho dogs and they rush to attack any larger dog. It is extremely difficult; apparently all the owners of Yorkies let them off the lead in the park. I find it quite a problem; so many owners take their dogs to the park and let them off the lead as soon as they arrive.
The type of lead that I believe is good for the park is the one that extends to 20 feet; I do not know whether it is the same as the piece of string referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. The extending leads are good because they allow the dog more or less to roam free but there is sufficient time to reel the lead in if one sees another dog coming. I reached the point where I used to take an umbrella to fend off the Yorkies. However, that seems to be a different problem. If a dog is being attacked by another dog, it is difficult.
I wonder whether there could be a suggestion that under Clause 2 all dogs must be kept on a lead in certain places; for example, in the street, any dog can be a hazard to others. Should local authorities make 554 regulations as to where dogs be kept on leads or does it come under the Bill? I should be interested to know. I do not wish the matter to be on the face of the Bill. It should not be necessary to put it into primary legislation if there are sufficient enabling provisions in the Bill for the regulations to be made when it becomes apparent that they are necessary.
The point that has been made in the debate is that different problems with dogs arise all the time. It is hard to anticipate them. However, if the legislation is sufficiently wide to enable regulations to be made when required, that would solve the problem.
This is a good Bill. The urban situation is quite different from that in rural areas. I was interested to hear those who spoke about the rural situation. I support the comment of my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes that no one should ever leave a dog with a small baby or a small child. I should never do so, no matter how much I loved or trusted the dog. One does not know how a dog thinks; it might see a small baby as a rat to be caught. There is no way of knowing and it is important for us to appreciate that, although people often think in this country that dogs are more human than humans, we do not know how dogs think and react. We must always be aware of that, even with the safest and kindest dog. I support the Bill.
§ 7.35 p.m.
The Earl of Buchan
My Lords, I wish to address your Lordships briefly in support of the Government's action in bringing in the Bill and congratulate them. The Minister may be gratified to know that all 478 canine inhabitants of the dogs' home at Battersea are personally grateful to him for what he is doing for them. I have consulted them through their barking vocal delegates. The dogs' home at Battersea has more experience than any other metropolitan dogs' charity in dealing with rescuing, re-homing and so on of stray dogs. Therefore, we are reasonably confident that in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police we can deal with any problems that arise as a result of such horrifying possibilities as hordes of stray pit bull terriers being released by irresponsible owners on to the streets of London.
I wish to ask the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, whether he is in favour of masses of stray pit bull terriers being released in London. After listening to his 25-minute peroration I was not quite sure. I believe he would not be in favour of it. However, if the same trouble had been taken over the first pit bull terrier that arrived in this country as is apparently being taken over the Tosa animal, we should not be in the present mess.
Personally, and on behalf of the canine delegates, I support the Bill.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, although I have a hankering after the registration scheme which I am sure will eventually come, I support my noble friend who so ably introduced the 555 Bill. I have no doubt whatever that sometime—perhaps under the next Government—the dog registration scheme will come.
I had early instruction on dogs. I am told that at the age of two-and-a-half I tried to force a lump of coal down an Irish wolfhound's mouth, but I was dragged away, presumably screaming. I wish to refer to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He is not present but I understand that he farms and he said that sheepdogs were only useful for herding sheep. With the greatest respect to him, I have quite a few sheep and many dogs, three of which are sheepdogs. They are remarkable animals, they can do much more than herd sheep. I once told a story in this House which I shall not repeat in detail. I knew a sheepdog that saved a man's life: it came home and got the search party which went out for about four miles into the hills in the dark. The man lived, they got him home, but the doctor said that it was a chance in a thousand.
I will tell you another instance of a greyhound which had run on the race track. My wife is interested in greyhound racing. I do not strictly approve of greyhound racing because often when the dogs have reached the end of their useful running lives they are put down, even though they may have made their owners a lot of money. It is atrocious that perfectly healthy dogs should be put down when they could be taken to dogs' homes. My wife once took out for a walk a greyhound bitch which had never seen a pheasant before. It slipped its lead during the walk and, spotting a cock pheasant about 100 yards away in the stubble, raced off like lightning and killed the bird instantly. It retrieved the pheasant and laid it at my wife's feet. I do not understand why the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said specific breeds of dogs were trained for one purpose only. Dogs have many sides to them.
As I have already said, I was brought up with dogs from an early age. When I was a boy I used to let my dogs sleep in my bed at night. I used to play tricks on them sometimes. I dressed in different clothes and then the dog would not accompany me out of the room. I have always considered dogs to be extremely sensitive animals just as I know many human beings who are also sensitive.
I hope that one day a dog registration scheme will be introduced. I would also like to see some provision made for bitches to be spayed. I know many people who are not very well off who own bitches. Often the bitches get out, mate with other dogs and have litters. Their owners cannot always afford to have them spayed as that is expensive nowadays. It is a great pity that the Government cannot offer such people some financial help to have their bitches spayed. Neutering a dog is of course a different matter as it is reasonably cheap. Neutering is a good practice as it prohibits dogs from mating indiscriminately.
A few years ago I introduced into this House a Bill which concerned pit bull terriers. The Bill came from another place, where it had been introduced by Mr. Greenway. At that time pit bull terriers had only just become fashionable among people who gambled on dog fights. One cannot call that a sport as it is a most 556 atrocious practice. I was pleased to hear my noble friend say that, when this Bill passes into law, pit bull terriers will become a thing of the past, certainly as regards organised dog fights.
My daughter had a Staffordshire bull terrier. In the middle of the 19th century miners in the Midlands used Staffordshire bull terriers in dog fights. Then the practice died out completely; presumably it was made illegal. Subsequently pit bull terriers have been introduced from America. Dog fighting is frowned upon and the Bill which I introduced in your Lordships' House increased the fine for dog fighting by about £1,000. That Bill attempted to stop the so-called sport of dog fighting. I hope that when the present Bill becomes law it will result in the demise of the pit bull terriers, certainly as regards dog fights.
I shall not delay the House further as it is getting late. I believe that eventually we shall have to introduce a dog registration scheme. There are 6 million dogs in Britain and if they are allowed to stray and breed indiscriminately the dog population will explode.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, this Bill is very necessary but it arrives rather late in the day. I welcome the Bill but I feel rather like someone at a cocktail party picking at the various delicacies as they are whisked past. In that situation one just wants one bulky item that will satisfy one's hunger. This legislation is rather like the situation at a cocktail party in that we have little bits of legislation tackling small issues but we are not bringing them together. When we do bring them together I hope that the main course of this meal of legislation will be some form of registration scheme. I believe that the Bill has recognised the need for some form of registration scheme.
The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Bill refers to restrictions on other types of dangerous dog. I believe therefore that the Bill concedes that there are dozens of different species of fighting dogs all over the world which can be imported into this country. Many of those species are rather bigger and more formidable than the American pit bull terrier. The RSPCA has given me a list of a vast number of species of dangerous dog from various parts of the world with names that I cannot even begin to remember, let alone pronounce. The single Japanese Tosa in this country may be a good dog and it has not had a bad turn yet. Nevertheless that breed of dog is one of the most frightening to come across, purely because of its size. Anything bigger than a Rottweiler should be in a zoo. The other day when I was running in the streets of London I saw a Rottweiler taking its owner for a walk. It must have been four or five stone heavier than the man who supposedly had it under control on a lead.
My noble friend Lord Falkland spoke of how one should behave with a dog so that it does not attack. Most of what I have been told contradicts the instructions that he had been given. The instructions that I had been given flashed through my mind when 557 I saw, that Rottweiler. I slowed to a walk, put my hands by my sides, did not look at the dog and hoped that it would go away as it dragged its owner past me.
The fact that there are in this country such animals as the Rottweiler, the Alsatian and other large dogs leads to another problem. Not only are there feral dogs in all the major conurbations but there are also latchkey dogs. Those are dogs which are let out when their owners leave for work and return home when their owners return. There is also the guard dog syndrome. There are kept in the United Kingdom, predominantly in built up areas, dozens of different types of dog which are not looked after.
It is also worth remembering that dogs are carnivores which are highly territorial and operate in packs and dogs which become fighting dogs are merely spirited dogs. A terrier is a dog which can worry something; it is agile and it is strong. A bull terrier is a dog which is capable of baiting a bull.
In addressing the problem of dog fighting we are dealing only with the worst offender. We are trying to stop recruitment to the heavyweight division of dog fighting and the macho culture. Unfortunately, money may be spent on the middleweight division; it may be the Staffordshire bull terrier next time round. I am sure that a breeder could easily produce a spirited and aggressive strain of Staffordshire bull terrier and the problems will start all over again. If one can produce one fighting dog one can produce another.
Thus, although the Bill will deal with the worst excesses of the problem and the most visible aspects of it, it can only be a partial answer. Ultimately, even if the Bill is enforced to the fullest extent—and the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states that:The additional expenditure to be incurred by the police, local authorities and the courts is not expected to be significant"—we may find that pit bull terriers have bred with feral dogs and latchkey dogs and we shall undoubtedly have a huge problem which is only beginning to emerge. I believe that we shall find that that part of the Bill is hopelessly optimistic and will probably not be effective. I hope that the Bill is seen as only a start in dealing with a large-scale problem.
There is one point that I should like to make in connection with breeding. The Labrador was mentioned. It was said that the Labrador does not bother anybody. It is true that normally it does not. However, in Norfolk the black Labrador was for a time the dog which had most commonly to be destroyed. There was a great demand for the dog and there was inbreeding to meet that demand. If a Labrador decides to savage you it does so rather ineffectually, but it can still leave scars. I give that as a small example of the potential problem we face with all dogs if we do not have some form of control. This Bill only makes a start on tackling that problem.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Gisborough
My Lords, the Bill deals only with a very limited aspect of the dog problem but leaves the main problem untouched. It does nothing to tackle the problem of irresponsible dog ownership, of which fighting dogs is a symptom. Clearly there will 558 not be a registration scheme, but I believe that one day such a scheme will be introduced, either for dogs or for owners.
In the meantime, this Bill deals with the ownership of certain breeds, in particular the pit bull terrier. Yet of the 468 serious attacks recorded by the Metropolitan Police in 1990 only 111 were by pit bull terriers and 357 were by other breeds, including cross-breeds. Therefore the Bill will make little difference to the scale of the attacks. This is in fact a Bill to stop dog fighting and has nothing to do with protecting the public. If that was the intention the breeds involved in those 357 attacks would be banned.
We all know that most dogs of all breeds are friendly by nature, but there is no doubt of the capability of rogue Rottweilers, German shepherds and Dobermanns to cause damage in the same way as pit bull terriers. Had any of those breeds been designated it would mean the destruction of another breed, yet leaving still more breeds capable of causing damage while the majority of dogs of those breeds are perfectly harmless. Even a Pekinese can be fierce.
Therefore, the answer should lie in the threat of potential claims for compensation and in insurance cover. If an owner of a dog had to pay substantial damages in compensation for any misbehaviour by his dog or accident caused by it, he would have to take out adequate third party insurance, and the more dangerous the dog the higher the premium would be. That in itself would be a deterrent against casual ownership. The new regulations regarding the wearing of collars for identification would help to ensure that the majority of dogs were insured in the same way as the majority of cars are insured, although never 100 per cent. of them. Too many dogs do not have collars at present and so their owners cannot be identified.
The cost of compulsory insurance might help to reduce the growing problem of irresponsible ownership with the attendant cruelty, abandonment and strain that exists at present. It might also reduce the vast number of dogs which have to be destroyed each day.
The Bill relates only to public places. The only incident of which I have any knowledge was a horrific one near Dunoon in which a child was suddenly set on and killed by a dog which she and a friend were taking for a walk. So far as I can remember it was a Rottweiler. The incident did not occur in a public place but in a private field, so the Bill would not apply. The attack could have been made on someone who was not with the dog—some other person or child walking at the other end of the field. The application of the Bill to public places only is therefore not wide enough.
There is also the question of the garden of a house, which has been mentioned earlier today. It could be argued that the path to a house is a public place inasmuch as the postman has a right to deliver letters unless requested not to do so. However, the garden could be the scene of an assault but would clearly not be a public place. Therefore, not only should the scope of the Bill be extended beyond public places but there should also be stronger liability for all dog owners to insure against damage caused by their dogs. The 559 penalties for actions brought against them should be high enough not only adequately to compensate the victims but also to encourage all dog owners to take out insurance policies.
I question whether Clause 3 could be turned against police officers arresting a criminal. It would be ironic if a criminal were able to apply the clause against a policeman who arrested him with a police dog.
There is also the question of hounds. There is always the possibility that the Bill could be used against hounds and other dogs used for sporting purposes. I understand that the Government will be bringing forward an amendment to remove any such threat. I look forward to reading it.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I have always understood that a dog's age should be multiplied by seven to match the age of a human being. I am sure that when we look back on this debate as it has gone through the afternoon and evening many of us will measure its length in dog years rather than human years. Nevertheless, the Minister must be very pleased with the response from most speakers who have given their general approval to the Bill before us.
As my noble friend said at the outset of the debate, we on these Benches support the Bill. We believe that the possession of a listed species—the pit bull terrier and the Japanese Tosa—should be prohibited as we cannot think why a dog bred to fight rather than to be a pet should be granted the same status as a pet. When one considers the injuries that have been mentioned in the debate, one realises that it is high time that some protection should be introduced.
However, on that point, we fear that the Government's decision to legislate on the control of dangerous dogs is belated. We also regret their failure to introduce a comprehensive national dog registration scheme. Although some speakers today said that this is not the right framework in which to introduce such a scheme, every speaker has said that he or she believes that a registration scheme would in the long term be the best way to deal with those problems. My noble friend Lady Nicol reminded us of the support of animal welfare groups and the support from public opinion polls which appear to present an overwhelming argument in favour of introducing a national dog registration scheme one day.
Given the Government's insistence on licensing pit bulls, the case for registration becomes even stronger and opposition is more difficult to justify. The inconsistency of the Government's argument is quite obvious, given that the Bill contains reserve powers for the Home Secretary to extend the list of dangerous dogs. Within a short time, there might be a long list of dangerous dogs and a two-tier system of dog ownership in operation. That could easily leave the public confused as to which breeds are classified as dangerous and subject to registration and those that are not. As Ministers have said before, the Minister said today that registration would not have prevented the recent attacks by pit bull terriers. That is true, but one might also say that insuring one's house against 560 fire would not stop it being burnt down. However, it would create a framework in which to deal with the damage and consequences of that fire.
Concern has been expressed as to who exactly will be responsible for implementing the scheme. I understand that the police service will need to enforce the law and prosecute people for breaches of the statutory provisions which deal with the keeping of prohibited dogs. However, I do not understand—perhaps the Minister will elaborate a little on this point when he winds up—why he believes that a private charity might be responsible. I have heard it said that it might be the Kennel Club. Although I have every admiration for the Kennel Club, I wonder why the Government believe that it would be better to give an organisation of that kind the responsibility rather than the local authorities. Local authorities have other related powers to deal with dogs and it is therefore puzzling why a third party should be brought in. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that point.
I should also be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the points that were put forward very strongly by my noble friends Lord Richard and Lord Jay who described the difficulties of establishing ownership. I found what they said convincing. I did not see how the important point of establishing ownership could be made within the scope of the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, made an extremely interesting speech about safeguards and enforcement of the Bill. No one would disagree with her when she said that other extremely dangerous species of dogs in the shape of Rottweilers caused a great uproar not very long ago. The noble Lord, Lord Milne, said that muzzling appeared to be an adequate way of protecting people from those dogs that were not covered by the Bill. Muzzling is perfectly humane. There is nothing cruel about it. Surely it gives people a great deal of confidence when they see a large dog coming along with a muzzle on. I can see no reason why that matter cannot be considered.
As regards insurance, I and I am sure many other noble Lords received a letter from the Association of British Insurers which stressed the importance of questions regarding compulsory third-party insurance for owners of prohibited dogs and asked that the matter be agreed with the industry before the regulations are prepared. I should be grateful if the Minister would give an assurance that the requirement of the insurance companies has been adequately fulfilled.
My noble friend asked why we could not extend the insurance to all breeds. It is illogical to say that some dogs should be insured whereas others need not be. It is like saying that if one has a Jaguar one must insure it, but if one has a Mini one need not bother. There is a lack of logic in that approach.
We are also concerned about the way in which policy has been invented rather as an instant response to the terrible attacks. My noble friend Lord Houghton made that point very well and said that we must get the matter right. We must work out exactly how to protect the public. We on this side believe that 561 there is a strong case for a more considered standing body to advise on that aspect of animal welfare. After all, there are such models as the Animal Welfare Council and the Food Advisory Committee, and the chances are that the control of dogs will continue to be an area of developing public policy. In the short term therefore it merits having an advisory group comprised of animal welfare experts and local authority representatives. Clause 2(4) goes some way towards achieving that objective, but not far enough. As the Minister knows, the Labour Party is in favour of setting up a dog advisory council to monitor continuously the effectiveness of dog control measures. That council would include vets, breeders, trainers, handlers and keepers of dogs as domestic pets. That would be a good way of dealing with the problem.
We look forward to the Committee stage when, as many speakers have said, the many improvements that we wish to see will be incorporated in the Bill. For instance, as my noble friend Lord Richard said, people who are injured through dog attacks in which the owner cannot be traced or identified should be able to claim from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lady Phillips said, where the police are called in, so to speak, to arrest a dangerous dog, they should be accompanied by a vet, a dog handler or an RSPCA inspector for their better protection. After all, even police dog handlers have no experience of dangerous dogs out of control. The police should have powers to act against dangerous dogs in tower blocks, maisonettes and the areas around them and in back gardens; that is, in other than what the Bill describes as a public place, although there has been a great deal of discussion about that. All owners should be obliged to keep their dogs in secure conditions in and around the area in which the owner resides.
In conclusion, although the Minister says that it does not, the Bill amounts to a registration scheme for dangerous dogs in everything but name and is therefore a welcome step in the right direction. However, we look forward to another opportunity before long to press for a national registration scheme for all dogs because we are convinced, as my noble friend said, that linking the dog and the owner is the best way to increase responsibility. Dog ownership is a way of creating better conditions and a better environment for dogs generally and of protecting the public against the menace of dangerous dogs. In the meantime, we wish the Bill a speedy passage to the statute book.
§ 8.10 p.m.
My Lords, as might have been expected, we have had an interesting debate today on the subject of dogs. I do not mind admitting that I was somewhat apprehensive about this debate. I know that if there is a subject which excites noble Lords it is one which deals with animals. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said that this debate on dogs was the most moderate that he had heard in his 40 years of parliamentary life. I thought that it was the 562 noble Lord himself who used to raise the temperature in these debates. However, he refrained from doing so today.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, who said that I must have been pleased with the response given to this Bill by noble Lords. That is perfectly true. Matters to do with dogs are, quite rightly, very emotive subjects. When your Lordships were good enough on the whole to approve of the Bill, although with criticisms and qualifications here and there, it was a great help.
There was the problem of what should be done. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that the press had hyped up this problem. If my right honourable friend had done nothing at all, everyone would have said that he had been wet and dilatory; but as soon as he did something people claimed that he should not do that and should do something different. It is very difficult. There are those like my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes who would like to see all pit bull terriers destroyed. Other people become distraught when dogs have to be destroyed. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, prefers to see dogs roam. Other people say that dogs ought to be muzzled all the time in public. Yet others say that they ought to be held on a lead in public. But, if a dog is put on a lead in public all the time, when will the poor animal take any exercise? Those are all very complicated matters which the Government have had to take into account.
In the end, we tried to address the real problem which affected everyone; namely, what is to be done with dangerous dogs—dogs that bite, kill and maim? It is perfectly true that many dogs can do that, but we thought it only proper to try to limit the number to those dogs which are trained as fighting dogs. That would at least remove the spotlight from the main problem. Then special provisions could be made for other breeds where it is shown that certain restrictions may be necessary.
To consider just one point, there are people who are frightened of Alsatians. I do not mind saying that I fall into that category. There are those who say that Alsatians ought to be muzzled in public places. But then one finds that Alsatians are the kind of animals which rescue babies who fall into ponds. One can imagine the outcry if an Alsatian could not come to the rescue because it was muzzled and so a baby died. Those were the kind of problems with which we wrestled. I hope that we have the Bill reasonably right in that respect.
My noble friend Lord Gisborough said that the Bill does nothing to make people look after their dogs better. Up to a point he is quite right. It does deal with the problem of dangerous dogs and keeps it at that.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made some nice remarks about me. I was deeply touched that he should have felt so minded but then of course he added the sting to the tail, as he always does. The noble Lord is generous and one always has to be careful. He said that I was of course merely a frontman for a stream of incompetence for which the Government were responsible. I thought that he had let his imagination run away with him just a trifle. But that is not surprising.
563 The noble Lord let his imagination run away with him over the Japanese Tosa. He said that they are such cuddly and friendly dogs. He told us how this huge, great animal, the size of a donkey, put its paws on his shoulders. I must say to him that he ought to be careful. It is rather like stroking the jaws of a combine harvester when the engine is running. One can get into great trouble. I can assure the noble Lord that the Tosa is a very dangerous dog. Thank goodness the noble Lord, Lord Addington, warned him too. In Japan they are fighting dogs. I understand that in some parts of Japan dog fights still take place. We do not want any more fighting dogs in this country. The noble Lord said that there was only one of them, as though that were a justification for having the poor animal. But if there is one then inevitably there are soon two, and away we go.
The whole idea is to prevent our having more fighting dogs in this country. The RSPCA agrees and so do the veterinary bodies and the dog organisations. They all agree that there is no place for the Tosa. So do the Government and so do all noble Lords except, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who, however, is perfectly entitled to his own individualistic opinion. Nothing that I can say will ever deter him from having that.
We shall look very carefully at any amendments that will be brought forward at Committee stage. However, it may be helpful if I indicate one or two areas in which we shall be prepared to look at amendments with, if possible, even more than our usual generosity, which noble Lords will recognise as considerable.
There was particular concern in another place—this anxiety was expressed again today by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips—that the definition of "public place" did not cover the communal parts of blocks of flats which had entry control, such as a security guard or a lockable door, at the front entrance. It was argued that, because the public was denied access by the entry system, the communal areas within could not be defined as a public place. That is certainly an area that we should wish to consider to see whether there is a way around the problem. It is not our intention to allow a flat holder to let loose his pit bull terrier on the stairs, walkways or passages of blocks of flats, simply because one has to go through a communal door in order to get to the flats and therefore it may not be described as a public place. We want to look at ways to get round that problem.
Another anxiety was expressed by my noble friend Lord Kimball and other noble Lords that the reference in Clauses 3(1) and 8(4) to a dog causing injury might have the effect of extending the scope of the offence too far. It was our intention that the offences should catch the owners of those dogs which, by being dangerously out of control, made people fear that they would be bitten, and, in the aggravated offence, would catch those owners whose dog actually bit or savaged people. Some noble Lords suggested 564 that the expression "causing injury" might catch the owner whose dog slipped the lead and put a cyclist in fear of falling off his bike and injuring himself.
My noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Dulverton raised the possibility of hunt saboteurs who might lure foxhounds over a road, thereby causing an accident. It was not our intention to catch that sort of situation. We do not consider that the Bill as presently drafted would have that effect. However, we should certainly look sympathetically at any amendment which would make the intention absolutely clear.
I indicated that we are prepared to look carefully and sympathetically at an amendment which sought to ensure that the types of dog caught by Clause 1 should at all times in public be in the charge of a person aged 16 or over. That is important and will require consideration.
The dreaded word "registration" received a great deal of mention. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that it would provide a more effective method of controlling dogs. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, thought that it would be a good idea. My noble friend Lord Stanley very wisely said that he did not want that in this Bill and that another place did not want it. Therefore he would not support an amendment. He has successfully moved an amendment in the past, and I was particularly grateful to him for his breadth of wisdom, if I may so describe it, in saying that it would not be appropriate in this Bill. My noble friend Lord Radnor wanted it. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, said that she would wish the matter to be pursued now. For the same reasons I was grateful for that information. My noble friends Lord Massereene and Ferrard and Lord Gisborough also wanted such a scheme.
A national dog registration scheme, whatever its virtues may be, would be difficult to enforce. It would be expensive to operate and would not solve the problems. It is irrelevant to the issue of fighting and dangerous breeds. If the registration scheme is to bite—if one may use such a description—it must be properly enforced and the cost will be considerable. There is therefore a strong disincentive on the dog-owning public to register. I press the point further. There has been such a scheme in Northern Ireland since 1983. At present only about 50 per cent. of dog owners register. There are always what one might call the goodies who register the dog and the baddies who do not. One is therefore left in the same position as before.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked: how does one know whether a dog is a pit bull terrier or a cross or half-breed? The pit bull terrier is a cross-breed. There is no clear-cut scientific way of defining such a dog. That is why we use the expression in the Billany dog of the type known as the pit bull terrier".My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes referred in a chatty way to "Staffies" and "Yorkies". I had not heard those colloquialisms previously. Clause 5(5) of the Bill puts the obligation on the accused to prove that the dog in question is not a pit bull terrier. For someone who owns a "Staffie" (to use my noble friend's expression), the Kennel Club certificate that it is a dog of that breed will be all the evidence needed 565 to convince anyone that the dog in question is perfectly acceptable. But if there is doubt, the person would have to prove that it is not a pit bull terrier.
The matter of third party insurance was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, the noble Lord, Lord Milne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. On the face of it, it is an enticing suggestion. To extend a compulsory insurance requirement to other dogs would obviously go much further than necessary for the purpose of the Bill. Compulsory insurance is a rather rare concept. At present one is obliged by law to insure one's motor car; but compulsory insurance does not apply to many other aspects. It is not obligatory by law to insure one's house or contents, even though there might well be goad reasons for doing so. Many household contents policies provide insurance cover for the policy holder's dog. It is probably sensible for the owner to decide to use such a policy. To make it compulsory for owners to insure every Chihuahua and Poodle would be a major step and a fairly major obligation on the dog owner. For the reasons that I have given, I do not believe that that would be a good idea.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, believed that tattooing animals was the better method and that chips tended to move around the body. I did not know that; I accept what he said. He said that he had seen two attractive ladies with two rather less attractive dogs and had suggested to the ladies that they might produce the dogs near the Peers' entrance. That was probably rather undesirable. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, stated that he was going to bring a Japanese Tosa to the front door. I believe that that is going rather over the top. I do not believe that it would be helpful even though it might be instructive. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said that he was frightened by those dogs, yet he believed that tattooing was a better method. If he were frightened by the dogs how would he like to grab them by the head and look inside their ears to see the tattoo mark? I fancy that he might find that not too enjoyable an experience.
The advantage of the chip is that one can read the information by machine; one does not have to hang onto the dog. There are certain advantages in that. Whether technology is sufficiently advanced is a matter that we must consider.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked how one identifies exempted dogs. The requirements for dogs exempted under Clause 1(5) to be neutered, insured and permanently identified is not on the face of the Bill but it will he in the order defining the exemption scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, my noble friend Lord Radnor and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to dogs which are dangerously out of control. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked what happens about dangerous dogs which jump over fences and attack children. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, asked whether the front garden is a public place. The front garden is not a public place but the power in Clause 3(4) applies everywhere. That 566 is the defence which the postman and postwoman have against being bitten. They can say that the dog ought to be kept under control.
On the noble Earl's point about a dog jumping over the fence, the Bill does not prescribe secure conditions for Clause 1 dogs, but those who retain exempted dogs will be committing an offence if they allow them to stray and they are out of the house and dangerously out of control. The onus is very much on the owners of the dogs to make sure that they are kept securely. If not, they face pretty tough penalties for breaking the law. If anyone fears that the dog next door—which may be an exempted pit bull terrier—is not properly controlled, he can apply to the court for an order under Clause 3(4) to force the owner to control it properly.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, before the noble Earl leaves that point, I am not sure that I heard him aright. Is he saying that the offence under Clause 3 applies to a place which is not a public place? If so, where do I find that?
My Lords, if the noble Lord will address his mind to Clause 3(4), it states:It is hereby declared for the avoidance of doubt that an order under section 2 of the Dogs Act … may be made whether or not the dog is shown to have caused injury … and may specify the measures to be taken for keeping the dog under proper control".That means that if you are pursued by a dog and bitten, or your next-door neighbour has a dog which you believe may bite you, you may apply to the court under the Dogs Act for an order. Clause 3 adds to the Dogs Act by stating that the court may specify the measures to be taken for keeping the dog under control,whether by muzzling, keeping on a lead, excluding it from specified places or otherwise".The noble Lord, Lord Richard, looks sceptical. He must not; it puts me off. Under the Dogs Act one can go to the court and the court can make an order that the owner must look after his dog properly. Clause 3(4) (b) permits the court to say what he has to do.
The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, quite rightly said that various dogs are specifically used to deter police in drugs cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said that pit bulls are used like weapons. The noble Viscount is quite right. I met some policemen recently who said precisely that: that when they are on the trail of drugs and go to a house, very often they are met by two pit bull terriers. They are used as weapons. That is completely wrong. If the Bill comes into operation then those pit bull terriers will not be there any more. That form of weapon will have been removed.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that firearms have to be kept in safe places, so why cannot one keep pit bull terriers in safe places? There is one immediate difference. Pit bull terriers have legs whereas firearms do not. It is quite easy to lock up a firearm. It is not so easy to lock up an animal. In that respect I do not believe that the two are totally comparable.
My noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior said that registration should be of the owner and not the dog. A register of owners would be of no 567 additional use to the police or other authorities which will be required to enforce the ban on ownership. They need to know whether a particular dog has been exempted and, if an offence has been committed, who the owner is. The central index will contain information about the dog and the owner. Under the Bill once one is registered as—
My Lords, we all make slips of the tongue. Once one has identified oneself as being the owner one cannot merely let the dog out of the house or give it away to the next door neighbour or to one's wife—one is the owner. Therefore it is unnecessary to have a register of owners such as my noble friend suggested.
My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked how the police will approach a stray pit bull terrier. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, also expressed anxiety about that matter. It is an operational matter which will be in the hands of the chief constable. In the end the police can call for assistance from a veterinary surgeon if necessary. If the dog is clearly so dangerous and vicious that it cannot be approached, the police have a common law power to put the dog down by shooting it. Such action is pretty extreme and I agree that trying to catch a pit bull terrier owned by a person housing drugs is not what most of us would regard as an afternoon's entertainment.
The noble Lord, Lord Hayter, referred to police dogs. He said that Clause 8(4) should not include police dogs being used operationally. An offence will be committed only if a dog is dangerously out of control. It is my experience that police dogs are exceptionally well disciplined and trained and remain at all times under the control of their handler even when not on the lead. It is sometimes necessary that such dogs under the control of their handlers should use force to restrain a criminal who is engaged in a robbery or trying to escape arrest. In that situation, as in the situation where a police officer must use force, the Criminal Law Act 1967 allows the police to use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances. That gives the police dog all the protection it needs, as it does to his handler. I do not believe that a special exemption under the Bill is necessary. Police dogs 568 carry out a vital job and are superbly trained. In executing their lawful duty the police have no cause to worry.
My noble friends Lord Stanley and Lord Soulsby referred to the Home Secretary's undertaking to produce legislation. Col. 644 referred only to proposals in the consultation paper. These proposals have been picked up by Clause 3(1) and (4) of the Bill. My right honourable friend's remarks had no wider meaning and, so far as I am aware, there are no plans for a wider consolidation of dogs legislation. The RSPCA and British Veterinary Association would like that to be considered in the future but not now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, asked why a private charity is compiling the list of animals. An agency has not yet been identified but we have sent tender documents to more than 25 organisations of all kinds. There is a need for a national list of exempted dogs and the agency is merely undertaking the paperwork. The police and dog wardens will be enforcing the provisions.
I am grateful to your Lordships for the encouragement that you have given to the Bill. I hope that it will have a relatively speedy and uncontroversial passage through this House.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.